Gay Balliet,
Lowell: the True Story
of an Existential Pig

(New Horizon Press, 2000)

I've recently learned much about pigs. Author Gay Balliet is extraordinarily fond of them. She collects them, tames them, communicates with them, becomes irate when a boorish human refers to them as potential luncheon products, and follows them as existential role models. Lowell: the True Story of an Existential Pig is her tribute to her potbellied pets, especially her first and foremost pig, Lowell.

If you own a pig, are considering acquiring a porcine pet or really appreciate piggy puns, this is the book for you. In brief chapter vignettes, Balliet shows the stages of pig development, techniques for acclimating these pets to humans and social situations, training strategies and potential problems for unprepared adopting families. She also details several rescue missions by her friend and mentor Susan Armstrong to save pigs which were mistreated, neglected or bereft of owners. Lowell could effectively serve as a guidebook for confused and surprised humans who find themselves in the company of a squealing thrashing piglet.

If you're looking for existential reading, it's a stretch. Balliet namedrops Sartre throughout, and says things such as "The pig regards a person as a kindred spirit, one who, he believes, should have as keen a sense of Self as does he." The final chapter also describes how the author modified her life to mimic her charges' philosophy of "carpe diem." While I'm willing to agree that these creatures are intelligent animals, I'm can't entirely accept all of the thought processes Balliet ascribes to them.

If you're just looking for a page-turner about pigs, skip the first three quarters of this one. Balliet obviously adores her pigs and is quite passionate about their well-being, but few of her chapters develop a conflict to keep the reader interested. Even when the pigs are ill, her story doesn't build to a climax. "Lancelot Lowell," about how protective a pig can be, and "Junkyard Pigs," recounting a rescue, prove the intriguing exceptions. Overall the narrative is repetitive, explaining jokes and revisiting previous chapters often. The extensive dialogue is stilted, integrating paragraph-long diatribes against incapable pet owners and the terrible suffering that results.

If you or someone you know loves pigs, then Lowell: the True Story of an Existential Pig is the book for you. If you want to continue to eat pork without guilt or you want to be entertained throughout 298 pages, then try something else.

[ by Julie Bowerman ]

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