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Finalist for the 2014 New England Book Awards in Non FictionAn outrageous hilarious and touching memoir by the youngest of nine children in a hardscrabble beyond eccentric Maine family With everything happening on Helen Peppe’s backwoods Maine farm life was wild and not just for the animals Sibling rivalry rock bottom poverty feral male chauvinism sex in the hayloft everything seemed and was out of control In telling her wayward family tale Peppe manages deadpan humor an unerring eye for the absurd and poignant compassion for her utterly overwhelmed parents While her feisty resilience and candor will inevitably remind readers of Jeannette Walls or Mary Karr Peppe's wry insight and moments of tenderness with family and animals are entirely her own As Richard Hoffman the author of Half the House A Memoir puts it Pigs Can't Swim is an unruly joyous troublemaker of a book 


10 thoughts on “Pigs Can't Swim

  1. says:

    Pigs Can't Swim is a collection of essays based on Helen Peppe's childhood memories Frankly it is amazing that she managed to live to adulthoodThe youngest of nine children she was by turns ignored or over directed Her family lived on a farm in Maine on a dead end road in the middle of nowhereHelen tells her tale all of it without flinching from what she perceives the truth to be her family's wild behavior prejudices poverty dysfunction and an episode with a child predator that was truly horrificI had to keep reminding myself that she made it out alive and at least managed to write a book because this memoir had some truly terrifying bits in itI think Pigs Can't Swim is an amazing piece of non fiction writing not only for its content but also for its executionHelen's parents weren't perfect but she doesn't seem to blame or justify their behavior In Pigs Can't Swim she just tells what happened and leaves a majority of the interpretation in the hands of the readerI couldn't put this book downIts flowing narration reminded me of a much grittier version of Life Among the SavagesIts personal and tell all style reminded me of She Got Up Off the Couch And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland Indiana Similar to She Got Up Off the Couch this book talks about overcoming poverty and adversity to become something If you enjoyed either of these books you'll probably love Pigs Can't SwimI received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads program Thanks for reading


  2. says:

    This memoir of hardscrabble youth will resonate with fans of Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle and Tiger Tiger by Margaux Fragoso “Nine children one daughter’s husband and two grandkids stuffed in a five bedroom house with overworked parents who lacked expendable cash time and energy meant that unless I made myself a pest I was invisible too”Peppe grew up the youngest of nine children among the rednecks and hicks of rural Maine case in point “My father had several siblings too but they had a dark history and no teeth” Her family kept a whole menagerie of animals some as pets but most as meat Early on Peppe grew uncomfortable with the contradiction between cherishing some animals and eating others She saw chickens with their heads cut off kittens drowned in a sack and a dog run over on the road; she heard her mother cry over her beloved pet cows “I don’t love the ones I eat” Soon she went a step further declaring she would never eat any animal againThe animal rights message occasionally gets a bit heavyhanded even though I’m sympathetic and it’s interesting to see what inspired Peppe to become a animal photographer; the compelling story is her miserable childhood Her father was a proud USPS employee for 25 years – but as a janitor she was later ashamed to learn Even so the family clung to scraps of dignity “‘It’s one thing not to have money’ my mother would say in judgment‘It’s another to be dirty’” Peppe gradually learned that she was in that pariah class of the poor and trashy; “the neighborhood considered us the tramps and riffraff” There was only one house key between 12 people; Peppe once had to break a cellar window when she got home early from kindergarten and was desperate for the bathroom As the youngest she was stationed as lookout whenever their parents were away When she spotted headlights coming down the driveway the others would have one minute to dump any cigarettes beer and half dressed boys out the back windows – their mother had the skills of a private investigator when it came to finding evidence of her children’s misbehavior One night Peppe failed to give adeuate warning because she was completely lost in a book Stephen King and James Herriot were her two rather diametrically opposed bookish indulgences “If not for books and animals I’d die from boredom” she thought This book is about the things that save us both large and small If “the special power of darkness is that it makes you believe there was never any light at all” pets and beloved books were the pinpricks of light that defied the darkness Yet the greatest source of light for her was love Helen followed in the footsteps of several of her sisters by becoming pregnant during her teen years She’d struck up an intense relationship with Eric a pastor’s son at age 15 and was pregnant a year later Guess what though? Eric’s last name was Peppe so this story has a happy ending she stayed with her high school sweetheart and they now have two childrenHer childhood wasn’t all sad of course A barn fire a swimming piglet a local ghost and an exploding pressure cooker made for plenty of fun antics Peppe’s anecdotes are charmingly written as well as vividly remembered; I particularly like this metaphor she gives for their immediacy in her mind “The memories of that night lived close to the surface ready to be clicked through one after another as if on View Master paper disks” If I have one uibble it’s that Peppe has made the curious decision to give her siblings descriptors rather than names in this memoir So for example readers meet her “blustery and favored brother” her “sister who holds grudges longer than God” and the “sister of poor choices” who eloped to Delaware at age 17 I suppose eight sibling names are a lot to keep track of but I found the habit irksome than uaint I was delighted to win a copy in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway


  3. says:

    I've really been on a memoir kick lately I came across this one mentioned in a review of The Sound of Gravel This isn't about religion the way gravel is but it is similar in the sense that the author is the youngest of nine children and this is the story of her childhood living in working class poverty rural MaineI'm the oldest child in my family and the youngest child in my family is thirteen years younger than me I don't really have a lens into her experience but I wonder if this would resonate with her The last thought not feeling considered as a human with her own ideas and feelings used as a tool overlooked in times of need It's a bit rough to read but only because Helen Peppe brings the reader into the story through her emotions and feelings about what is going on It is painful to see all she did not know her lack of control over her body and possessions her lack of understanding of what should belong to her Will insert uotations here when I go back to my iPad


  4. says:

    Read this book If you were a child and I believe you were this book will mean something to you


  5. says:

    Helen Peppe's memoir about life in the backwoods of Maine is filled with love humor and humiliation like most childhoods The animals weren't the only randy mammals on the farm Helen often found herself in the role of lookout for her love crazy teenage siblings Escaping into fictional books Stephen King novels only helped to fill her with fear of the creepy home she lived in that might just have been haunted by a ghost named Mary The curse of the youngest she began school carrying the history of her rebellious brothers and sisters like a cross Her mother and father suspected their children of being up to no good sniffing out sex alcohol anything they deemed 'bad' guilty by association my mother would say when she told my sisters to stay away from the neighborhood tramps and riffraff That's before she found out the neighborhood considered us the tramps and riffraffA line that speaks volumes of childhood is this A child's brain is like fly paper that hangs from a barn ceiling it doesn't get to choose which memories fly away free and which memories stick to deathHelen has a funny way of describing her siblings without using their names There is the blustery favored one a brother the sister who holds grudges longer than God a tough yet admirable sister also a pretty hair twirling sister Living among the family is the hanger on that causes nothing but trouble with his loud mouthed chauvinistic hard ways that the children all call the bullshit artist ass Skipper The children are all full of piss and vinegar and Helen holds her own in the mix Clever and rarely uiet she is the uestioning child of the family often driving her siblings and parents crazy with her curiosity Between wearing hand me downs and lacking for the attention she needed from her parents Helen found herself in trouble with no one to protect her disbelieved for being a story teller But it wasn't all misery and hardship we see a family that protects and loves each other in the only way they know how As her much read author Stephen King's characters proved no one is normal An enjoyable memoir that made me laugh as much as cringe those who enjoyed Jeannette Walls will love this and anyone that has ever felt humiliated by their family or themselves


  6. says:

    This was an amazing book I liked everything about it; from the style of writing to the setting to the depth of feeling from the author It is a memoir with some real substance I was attracted to the picture on the cover as well as the title and took a chance on it when it was offered through NetGalley I am so glad that I did This was one great coming of age story Helen is the youngest of 9 children in an interesting but somewhat repressive family Her experiences range from funny to heartbreaking There were so many poignant moments where I actually had to stop and reread what she wrote then reflect on it I laughed and cried but mostly I just felt happy to be sharing in her story I am just a bit older than the author but I do relate to many of the things she describes This is one fantastic memoir and one of the better books I read this year Recommended highly


  7. says:

    Peppe's memoir is entertaining and up lifting Her voice is strong in each uniue chapter and her use of syntax is one I wish to instill in my students Even though some of the events could be remembered and recalled with a bitter and a resentful tone Peppe does not resort to self pity nor does she place blame I will recommend this book to all of my students and to my friends The author's command of writing makes me want to read from her At the school where I teach we have Jeannette Walls's memoir in our American Literature curriculum I'm writing curriculum for the CCSS for pre AP American Literature course and I hope to add Peppe's memoir as a part of the supplementary reading


  8. says:

    The hero's journey pops up when we don't expect it We hear thrilling stories from sources that we don't expect and this is part of the wonder of life Helen Peppe deftly delivers a memoir about the heroism of a child in a forbidding unsympathetic and uncomprehending environment The child is trapped in what is anathema to her Yet this child never turns to despair but ingeniously crafts her future It's a great story full of twists and turns nothing is predictable This book is Jane Eyre told modern and hilariously told thrillingly in dark and light and bright tones


  9. says:

    Helen grew up the youngest of nine on a backwoods Maine farm Her parents were overwhelmed and struggled to find the money to take care of their large family Told with humor and grace Helen relates the joy and sorrows of growing up the youngest Parts reminded me of my large family of seven children and thankfully some of the things that they got up to I didn't find out until they were older Would have gotten gray hair at a young age for sureA story that will appeal to anyone with siblings laughter tears and allARC from Netgalley


  10. says:

    This is a wonderful and moving book and hard to put down Peppe writes what could be dark or distressing scenes that are instead instilled with a self depreciating hilarity that pulls you in and pulls you along The whole story is so three dimensional that you really know the characters and can feel empathy for almost all of them even when they are behaving in ways you can't understand Highly recommended