PIGS CAN'T SWIM by Helen Peppe


A Memoir
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A writer and photographer’s wry but poignant account of her hardscrabble childhood and adolescence in rural New England.

Peppe grew up on an isolated Maine farm the youngest child of nine. Her housewife mother left school after eighth grade, and her ex-Army father worked as the fix-it man for the local post office. They struggled to keep afloat financially, yet pride kept them from admitting they were anything but middle class. In their chaotic household, the eldest children occupied themselves with smoking, drinking, fighting and sex. Peppe only added to the furor with her penchant for asking questions that her harried parents could never answer, like whether or not it was “sad for live chickens to see [them] plucking the dead ones.” To everyone in her family, Peppe became “queer.” She was the little girl whose deep sympathy for animals and inability to see the ones she loved get slaughtered for food drove her to become a vegetarian. She escaped the harshness of her environment by seeking the companionship of animals, especially dogs and horses. Peppe also immersed herself in books by British veterinarian James Herriot and, later, fellow Mainer Stephen King, whose terrifying fictional worlds “seemed so much safer than [her] own reality.” By the time she entered high school, she had survived not only the taunts and coldness of her family, but also sexual assault. Peppe began dating a pastor’s pianist son who looked “a bit like a chimpanzee” but played like he belonged at Juilliard. Parental disapproval and a miscarriage at age 16 only served to strengthen the bond between Peppe and the boy, who became her future husband.

Unsentimental in its character portrayals and forthright yet humorous in its depiction of devastated innocence and family dysfunction, Peppe’s book is a celebration of difference, resilience and the healing power of love.

Pub Date: Feb. 4th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-306-82272-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Da Capo
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2013


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