"I told you the ghost of Aunt Ahra did it." Or, The Pigman

Hey, all! Nikki isn’t here at the moment, I have her tied up in my clos– I mean, she’s busy right now. This is Michelle from Elementary School Library Flashbacks with a guest post for today. Note that there will be spoilers in this post, which I assume you’re expecting, but just in case, I’m making it clear now.

So, yeah, The Pigman. Words cannot describe how much I love this book. I read it in sixth grade and read it again and again and again over the next several years. It had been a while since my last reading, but it turned out that I love it just as much as I always did.

(Note– There is a sequel, The Pigman’s Legacy, written almost twelve years after the first. It isn’t a bad book, but it’s not nearly as good as The Pigman. Keep that in mind if you track it down.)

We start off with a written oath from a Lorraine Jensen and John Conlan, two fifteen year olds. They’ve decided to create an account of their experiences with a Mr. Angelo Pignati. It’s explained that they’re using the typewriter in the library (this was published in 1968) to write this, and that the librarian is under the impression that it’s for a report for ‘our retarded English teacher’.

The first chapter is written by John, who lets us know right off that he hates school, which contributed to him meeting Mr. Pignati, aka the Pigman. John used to bomb the bathrooms at school. No, really. He’d attach birthday candles to firecrackers so the fuse would be extended, set them off, then go to class and let the kids smoking in the stalls be the ones to get caught. He claims he did this twenty-three times before he got bored of it. This, in a nutshell, is John.

One of the first things we learn is that the Pigman has died, and John thinks that since it’s happened, Lorraine tends to have the look of a Saint Bernard that’s just lost its keg. So, he was the one to come up with the idea to write a ‘memorial epic’. Meanwhile, according to him, Lorraine is ‘panting to get at the typewriter’, so he passes it over to her ‘before she has a heart attack’.

Meet Lorraine. Lorraine is convinced that omens are everywhere and that she’s going to get every disease known to mankind. John smokes, which upsets her, so she tells of how she once gave him a book by Freud that described the dangers of smoking. Except Freud is smoking a cigar on the cover, and ‘If Freud smokes, why can’t I?’

Basically, John and Lorraine are different. They are very different. John drinks, swears and smokes, while Lorraine is tight laced and repressed. You know! Opposites! Attractation! Though if you claimed that they were attracted to one another, they’d probably deck you.

We learn a bit about Lorraine’s mother. All the parents in this book are messed up, but Lorraine’s mother is a special case. She’s convinced that all men are evil, due to her own failed marriage, and doesn’t give Lorraine that much warmth or encouragement. She’s been known to say things along the lines of ‘You’re not a pretty girl Lorraine, but you don’t have to walk about stoop-shouldered and hunched’.

Ouch.

John’s parents aren’t much better. His father is a former alcoholic who’s generally a jerk, and his mother has no personality of her own, content to let her husband be the main voice of the family. They both hold John’s brother, Kenneth, up as the ‘successful’ one, and always compare the two to one another.

After a while, we finally learn about the events leading up to the meeting of the Pigman. John and Lorraine used to be friendly with two kids named Dennis Kobin and Norton Kelly. (Fun fact about Norton– when he was in ninth grade, he got caught stealing a bag of marshmallows and had his name and picture put in the newspaper. Since then he’s been known as the Marshmallow Kid.)

Anyway. Apparently they used to love making prank calls of the wildly original ‘Is your refrigerator running?’ variety. Except one day they get a new idea– to see how long they could keep a complete stranger on the phone. Lorraine picks a name from the phone book with her eyes closed, and gets ‘Pignati Angelo 190 Howard Av…..YU1-6994‘.

Lorraine pretends that she’s someone named Miss Truman, calling from the fictitious Howard Avenue Charities. Mr. Pignati seems excited to have someone to talk to, and immediately starts telling really bad jokes, such as ‘The best get-well cards to get are four aces! Ha, ha, ha! Isn’t that funny?’, and ‘In many states, a hunting license entitles you to one deer and no more. Just like a hunting license. Ha, ha, ha!’

Oh, Mr. Pignati.

Mr. Pignati talks about his wife a lot, mentioning that she’s visiting her sister in California and how he misses her a lot. No, this won’t come up later at all… He also says that he’d be happy to donate ten dollars. Which, according to the Inflation Calculator, is now worth $60.99 today. Lorraine balks, not expecting this, but John takes the phone from her, and before they know it they’ve agreed to stop by his house to pick up the check.

Oops.

Lorraine is completely against going, but John insists, as he needs the money to buy a six pack. Of course, he claims he wants to go because it’s their duty to visit the elderly, and telling Lorraine that the old man might be so lonely that he’s contemplating suicide. Lorraine is aware that John is full of shit, but she eventually goes along, albeit reluctantly.

At least we meet Mr. Pignati. The ‘old man’ is actually in his late fifties, though to John and Lorraine that’s ‘old’, and he has a beer belly. He has a huge smile on his face, and is thrilled to see the two of them. He doesn’t seem to notice that John and Lorraine (going by the names of Mr. Wandermeyer and Miss Truman) are fifteen years old, instead focusing on the fact that the ‘charity people’ have come. You get the idea that he’s really lonely very easily.

For the first time, John and Lorraine wonder if Mr. Pignati might be a serial killer and if it was a good idea to prance over to a stranger’s house. He gives them glasses of wine and talks about his wife. She’s in California, you know. With her sister. Really.

He shows them his massive collection of ceramic pigs, which he and his wife started collecting because of the whole last name thing. As they accept the check and get ready to leave, he suddenly suggests that they should all go to the zoo sometime. Even though they feel uncomfortable accepting, they do. The zoo trip is mainly uneventful, but they do meet Bobo the gorilla, Mr. Pignati (or, as they now privately refer to him as, the Pigman) is friends with. They throw him peanuts.

As time goes by, John and Lorraine bond more and more with the Pigman. He’s always happy to see them and seems to genuinely be interested in them, unlike their parents, and Lorraine stops crying herself to sleep at night. The only time he seems to become sad is when looking at a portrait of his wife, Conchetta. John thinks that Conchetta probably left him and ran off to California. He’s proven wrong, though. The Pigman encourages them to take a look around the house, and while snooping, John and Lorraine find the funeral bill. Oops.

Lorraine is freaked out. She doesn’t think that the Pigman murdered his wife, but she’s still unnerved. They don’t say anything, and after a while they stop worrying. There are fun adventures with the Pigman, one of which involves them going to a department store in Manhattan. The Pigman insists on buying them tons of stuff, something their parents never do. John and Lorraine end up rolling skating around the department store, and the Pigman buys skates for himself as well. For the first time, Lorraine stops worrying and enjoys herself.

After a while, John and Lorraine finally admit that they don’t really work for a charity and that they’re high schoolers. The Pigman seems a bit hurt, but he doesn’t say anything to that effect. After a moment, he finally admits that Conchetta is dead.

As the mood has now gotten pretty depressing, John lightens things up by roller skating around the house to get the Pigman laughing. It works, and soon all three are roller skating. Except the Pigman has a heart attack and falls down the stairs.

Oops.

He’s all right, though. He gets taken to the hospital and John and Lorraine promise to watch over the house for him. When the cops ask, they claim that they’re his children.

John and Lorraine hang out at the house a lot together, and there’s tons of sexual tension. At one point they find themselves goofing off and trying on the Pigman and Conchetta‘s old clothes, which somehow ends with them on the Pigman’s bed, kissing. Not sure how to handle it, they pretend it never happened and go downstairs to eat dinner together.

Norton, aka the Marshmallow Kid, finds out about the Pigman. John decides that if people know about what’s going on, they might as well have a party. After all, the Pigman isn’t there. Lorraine, the sole voice of reason, knows this is a Very Bad Idea, but, as always, goes along with it anyway.

The party starts out small. Then the band shows up. And the party crashers. And Norton. Who gets ridiculously drunk and smashes all of the Pigman’s ceramic pigs. Which makes John attack him. Which ends in a full out brawl between the two, just as the Pigman gets home early.

Oops.

The cops show up almost immediately after, having gotten calls on the noise. They take Lorraine and John home, letting them know that ‘the old man was crying’. Lorraine finally has to admit to her mother what’s been going on, and although her mother seems to understand, hours later she asks if the Pigman ever touched her sexually. Which pisses Lorraine off beyond belief, but… yeah, I can kind of understand the concern from her mother considering not many fifteen year olds hang out with older men and keep it a secret. Even so, it does feel incredibly wrong (and childhood destroying) to think of the Pigman doing something like that.

The next day John and Lorraine call the Pigman and apologize. He forgives them, but it’s clear that things have changed. They invite him to the zoo, where it’s strained and completely unlike their first visit there. When they visit Bobo, they find that the gorilla has died. It seems that the Pigman has finally had all he can take, and he has a heart attack and dies.

While watching the paramedics try to save him, John finally makes it clear to himself that he will never be like his brother, that he doesn’t care that people will think he’s a ‘disturbing influence’ because he still thinks about ‘God and Death and the Universe and Love’. He decides that he’s all right with that.

The book ends with John comforting Lorraine as she cries while the Pigman is taken away. They realize together that life is what you make of it, nothing more, nothing less.

I love this book so much. I can’t do it justice, just blogging on it. I love the Pigman, I love the characters, I love the story. I love the fact that John and Lorraine don’t end up together as some happy couple. The end isn’t tied up in a neat bow, but it’s not hopelessly depressing– there‘s a slight lift, and you know that John and Lorraine will turn out all right. Read it. Now. I’ll wait.

In the meantime, here’s a list of some of the more amusing bits that show the book’s forty two year old age–

-A six pack of beer costs $1.25.
-The total costs for Conchetta’s funeral and burial is priced at $1,321.06.
-John finds the Pigman’s ‘charge card’ and is amazed– ‘You mean you just sign your name, and a department store lets you take whatever you want, and you don’t have to pay for it for months?’
-The prank calls are so outdated– does any teenager today find ‘Is your refrigerator running?’ funny at all?
-The ‘memorial epic’ is written on a typewriter.
-Lorraine’s mother slaps her in front of the policeman that brings her home. All that happens is that the policeman seems sorry that he brought her to the door.
-Speaking of which, they don’t get arrested for the party. Even without the Pigman pressing charges, there’s still underage drinking and the massive fight between John and Norton. If this was a small town I’d find it slightly more believable, but it’s Staten Island.
-It’s mentioned that John ties up the only phone line in the house so much that his father put a lock on it (that John subsequently fills with airplane glue, which he insists was really done by the ghost of Aunt Ahra, his father‘s mother‘s sister who used to live with them).
-They call the operator twice, and get a live one each time.
-The phone numbers are the older kind, with letters in them– The Pigman’s is YU1-6994, and Lorraine’s is YU1-1219.

I suppose I should let Nikki out of the closet now. Oh, well. It was fun guest posting, and I’d like to thank Nikki for giving me the opportunity. Hopefully she won’t be too mad about me tying her up in the first place.

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About nikkihb

Wife. Mother. Reader. Blogger.
This entry was posted in guest blog, Paul Zindel. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to "I told you the ghost of Aunt Ahra did it." Or, The Pigman

  1. Anonymous says:

    I LOVE this book, and I'm glad to see someone finally reviewed it! My mother bought this book as a joke for me, because the main characters have the same names as her and my father, but it ended up being a truly fantastic book that I still read, 20 years after receiving it!

  2. Sada says:

    I love this book too. Team Pigman!

  3. nikki says:

    MichelleThanks for a great guest post. Your closet is nice and neat – perhaps you can come clean mine out so I have room to hold hostages as well. I'm glad you chose to review this book. I'd only read it once and had pretty much forgotten how great it is. Now it's probably added to my ever growing pile of books I swear I'm going to re-read one of these days.

  4. Sara says:

    This is one of my all-time favorite books. I read it in 9th grade and ended up with a copy of my own. 😀 Oh, and the sequel is awesome, too.

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