Thursday, February 07, 2008

Zindel's The Pigman

The Pigman was published in 1968, and I think it is important for students to know this, along with the fact that it was considered groundbreaking and almost shocking for its realistic portrayal of troubled teens. "Fresh" language, situations, and themes of slightly dysfunctional families, and "bad" teens who smoke, drink and use questionable language(quaintly portrayed with %$@&#) were all a change from the young adult literature of the time, which tended to be more idealistic. The whole story-- after placing a prank call and getting a false donation from a man whose wife has died, two students befriend him and hang around with him until he becomes ill and they betray his trust-- was something different. (It was a trend; The Outsiders was published in 1967.)

Today, teens read shocking literature all the time. It's not just cigarettes and wine, it's heroin. (Beauty Queen) Different voices emerge, sometimes in difficult to follow styles like Klass' You Don't Know Me or Going'sSt. Iggy. After 40 years, The Pigman has some very dated references that should be explained going in-- what is this lock on the phone? Phones have dials that turn around? And why didn't the children just show up on caller i.d.? They got real people when placing prank calls? Not answering machines?

My daughter, who had to read this for class, made the observation that Mr. Pignati inviting the teens into his house and letting them hang out while drinking wine was creepy in the way that the lyrics in a Rankin-Bass Christmas special are now creepy: "If you sit on my lap today/ A kiss a toy is the price you'll pay." Where were the parents? How lucky were the teens that they weren't abused in some way? And what was Mr. Pignati thinking? It almost seemed fitting that they held a party at his house. They were sorry, they made amends; the ending was unfortunate, but it was so contrived that it lost a lot of power for me. Could see it coming a mile away.

Schools everywhere have huge class sets of these. We just purchased a number at my school. It's an interesting piece of period literature, but unless it is explained very carefully, I think its effectiveness is lost on today's children. The copy I read had notes from Zindel in the back that helped a little. I'll have to read the sequels tonight.

Bottom line: This is something that students have to read, not something that they would choose to read.

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