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Swine Not? A Novel Pig Tale

By: Jimmy Buffett; Illustrated by Helen Bransford
Reviewed by: Don Alexander
Little, Brown, and Company, 2008
$21.99, Hardcover

Imagine, if you will, a mom that’s a former Opryland Hotel cook but now a pastry chef in a four star New York hotel, twelve-year-old twins—a soccer whiz son and an aspiring fashion designer daughter—a screenplay writing absentee dad who’s in Iceland, a cat that is typically draped on a twin’s shoulders, and a potbellied pig named Rumpy that can read (but can’t Google) and disguises herself in a dog costume.

No, this is not a Rod Serling introduction to an episode of The Twilight Zone. This is Jimmy Buffett’s most recent novel, Swine Not? A Novel Pig Tale.

One need not know a halyard from a moor line or how an old salt pronounces “leeward” to read this whimsical leap from reality. Swine Not? is primarily set in New York City, without the sailboats and conch shells so typical of Jimmy Buffett. There is no elusive Joe Bama or mystical Desdemona, but there is a pigeon formation called the Pigilantes and there is an evil, knife wielding Hunchback of Hackensack.

The author asserts that the novel is not a children’s book. The gentle, easy style, the forty-seven short and narrative chapters—narrated by Barely the boy or Rumpy the pig—and the essential suspension of disbelief may lead one to think otherwise. The book was released near the beginning of summer and is definitely quick, light, beach/pool reading.

The kernel of this tall tale comes from real life events of friend/collaborator and illustrator Helen Bransford. She approached Buffett with a set of illustrations and a short draft of a pig tale, which he considered editing. Bransford, with her author husband, twin kids, cats, and large pet pig Forkie, actually lived in a posh Manhattan hotel for over two years. Buffett goes far beyond Bransford’s brief tale, claiming, “As a fiction writer, sometimes you simply can’t top the facts; you use them as a roux to make a bigger pot of literary gumbo.”

Swine Not? is written in the gentle, easy flowing style found in most of Buffett’s musical lyrics, as well as in his previous novels. There are, of course, the expected comments about eating meat, there is some strong support for teamwork in a single-parent lifestyle, and there is the occasional animal-about-human philosophy, such as “After you help them or they help you, they become your friends.” Swine Not? is less about social commentary than about telling the adventures and the development of adolescents and a pig as they assimilate in an East Coast metropolitan environment.

Jimmy Buffett is one of only nine authors to have topped both the fiction and nonfiction bestseller lists of The New York Times. Swine Not? will certainly appeal to Parrotheads and members of the pig culture—yes, there is one—as well as adults and children seeking light, fun escapism. However, some readers may need filé for this cup of literary gumbo, and a dash of Tabasco, too! Nov 2008

Don Alexander, a late-in-life Parrothead, is a retired Professor of Mathematics.

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