THE PIG COMES TO DINNER by Joseph Caldwell

Book Quote:

“Believing or not believing isn’t what makes the truth the truth.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Mike Frechette (JUN 25, 2009)

The second installment of Joseph Caldwell’s pig trilogy, The Pig Comes To Dinner, might be better titled The Pig Becomes Dinner, a suggestion that shouldn’t spoil the ending. As those who have read the first book of the series know, these charming tales aren’t really about the pig at all. Her ultimate fate lies beside the point, and her lesbian mischievousness (that’s right) serves only to inch the plot forward for an entertaining cast of quirky characters – human characters. The lovelorn American Aaron McCloud and his self-indulgent melodrama starred in the first novel, while his aunt Kitty, a hack novelist who earns her livelihood rewriting the old classics, takes center stage in this most recent story. Now married to Kieran Sweeney, a former arch-enemy, Kitty lives with her husband in Castle Kissane. However, soon after moving in, Kitty and Kieran realize that they do not technically live alone, a disturbing discovery that unearths the castle’s troubled history. Part comedy, part ghost story, and part historical fantasy, The Pig Comes To Dinner is a bit overambitious, but nonetheless a smart sequel that sets the bar high for the conclusive installment of this thus far delightful trilogy.

Like its predecessor The Pig Did It, readers will first appreciate Dinner for its humor. The plot develops in ridiculous directions, preventing the level of seriousness from ever exceeding a certain value. Crisp, witty prose quickly establish the book’s comedic tone, one that persists even during the story’s creepiest moments when the ghosts of two deceased youths named Brid and Taddy begin to appear in the castle. Falsely hung two centuries ago for supposedly lining the castle with gunpowder, Brid and Taddy have now returned with haunting looks and the rope burns still fresh on their necks. However, any horror at their presence and sorrow for their plight is defused when we discover that Kitty is not frightened of the ghosts per se but is secretly paranoid that Keiran is falling in love with the beautiful Brid.

In an episode of self-deprecation, Caldwell himself calls attention to the preposterousness of this line of storytelling through Lolly McKeever, Aaron’s new wife and the swineherd from the first novel. Now a writer, Lolly is composing a novel based on the events that have been unfolding. Unsure how to proceed, she eventually decides the plot can move forward only if one of the castle tenants falls in love with one of the ghosts. Aaron, the former writer turned swineherd, exclaims, “Falling in love with a ghost! Really! You should have a little more respect for your characters than that.” In this novel within the novel, Caldwell laughs at himself, in turn sparking laughter from the reader and illustrating how the tedium of crafting fiction can lead to peculiar stories. One can almost hear Caldwell himself speaking when Aaron says, “Thank God, I never have to write another word.”

Aside from her fear that Kieran is creepily obsessed with an adolescent apparition, the ghosts also bother Kitty because they present something inexplicable. For Kitty, “it was her impulse to search for understanding, to expose a motive, to tame the chaos of the human adventure.” Though Kitty and Kieran discover some important answers about the castle’s history and their own, the ghosts present an aspect of reality that cannot be explained but must only be accepted. In humorous contrast to Kitty’s bawdiness and Kieran’s earthiness, this novel seriously gazes outward in contemplation of a universe that could possibly be infinitely complex. As the book’s prefacing quote says, “The purpose of reality is to show the way to mystery – which is the ultimate reality.”

In addition to humor and metaphysical mystery, the novel contains a number of other notable features as well. For history buffs, the plot’s momentum cleverly relies on the long, combative history between the English and the Irish, although the historical background does feel a bit injected at times. In terms of character, some might think that Kitty’s paranoia and a lesbian pig could carry the novel alone, but Caldwell’s cast is much broader. When the parish priest cannot rid the castle of its ghosts, Kitty calls on the local Seer, Maude McCloskey – referred to by Kitty as “the Hag” – and her precocious son Peter for wisdom and guidance on how to address the presence of specters in her home.

Unlike The Pig Did It, the pig plays an even less significant role in this story as catalyst for the action. And now that she’s dead, the reader wonders what possible role, if any, she could have in the conclusion to this trilogy. The third installment is called The Pig Enters Hog Heaven, leaving us to speculate where precisely Caldwell will transport his readers in the final tale of the series – some bizarre afterlife for swine, perhaps? Or better yet, maybe the pig’s ghost will haunt Kitty and Kieran for accidentally roasting it on the spit. The first two books haven’t exactly clung to the tenets of realism, so we shouldn’t put it past him.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 8 readers
PUBLISHER: Delphinium Books (May 19, 2009)
REVIEWER: Mike Frechette
AMAZON PAGE: The Pig Comes to Dinner
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Joseph Caldwell
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of The Pig Did It


Pig Trilogy:

June 25, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Humorous, Ireland, Sleuths Series

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