Paul Zindel Essay - Zindel, Paul (Vol. 6)

Zindel, Paul (Vol. 6)

Zindel, Paul 1936–

Zindel, an American playwright and novelist, is best known for his successful plays And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little and The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. He received the Pulitzer Prize for the latter.

[In "The Pigman" Paul Zindel] reinforces the belief that regardless of the handicaps or advantages, and whatever the condition of the world, every person has to finally sculpt his own vision of it: "Baboons build their own cages," Paul Zindel says.

"Thg Pigman" is a "memorial epic" told, chapter-in-turn, by two high school sophomores, John and Lorraine. They are an engaging pair, nicely iconoclastic, who suspect nearly everyone else of congenital brain damage. Their "epic" makes a very funny book at one level because Mr. Zindel catches the bright, hyperbolic sheen of teen-age language accurately and with humor. It is a serious book as it reveals their touching and sad, yet happy, acquaintance with a lonely old man, Mr. Pignati, The Pigman, to whom they give some moments of joy and hurt, in exchange for another piece of knowledge gained in the puzzle of growing up….

Unfortunately, the boy and girl do not recognize the symptoms of senility—or that an old man may be hurt as well as pleased by life, as easily as they. His defenses are down while theirs are daily battered and strengthened.

"The Pigman" is in most ways a thoroughly successful book with the right combination of the preposterous and the sensible. Only at the end does Mr. Zindel find it necessary to patronize his young readers by spelling out the moral; surely any kid bright enough to read the medium will be bright enough to get its message. (p. 2)

John Weston, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 3, 1968.

At this writing, Paul Zindel will be best known to New York readers for his hit play, the oddly-titled "The Effect of the Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds." With "The Pigman" and "My Darling, My Hamburger" he has also developed a reputation as an "adult juvenile" novelist, someone who's really tuned into the pervasive teen-world that envelops us all but few of us can cope with as well as we'd wish. I have not read those two highly-praised books—but I am forced to state that … "I Never Loved Your Mind" is a sweet and sour mash of old boy-meets-girl pulp, poured into a contemporary hippie flask. (p. 14)

On surface, "I Never Loved Your Mind" seems "phantasmagorically different" from its usual juvenile fiction peers. Zindel knows how to make all sorts of cutesy moves. His style is breezy and brash, almost self-consciously slipstreams Salinger. He uses the old four letter words of the new dictions and un-selfconsciously trots out as new high school humor the old college humor…. His characters … seem to take far-out, anti-Establishment poses. But that's just it. They're only poses.

To be sure, Zindel allows his hero and anti-heroine to voice anti-Establishment knocks, particularly against such easy marks as high school teachers. But in the end he stacks his value deck completely by making the hippie commune—the only alternative he offers—and all of the hippie characters seem gross, grotesque, and terribly unattractive….

How do you reach the young, the teen-agers? In books, as in life, I do not know. But neither, I think, does Mr. Zindel. For I do know that fiction must offer truth in the guise of illusion, not illusion instead of the truth. And the one thing our Now children can sense most assuredly, as they peer across that well-known gap at their generators, is the scent of adult con. (p. 16)

Josh Greenfeld, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 24, 1970.

Paul Zindel writes for those young adults who, if they are at all sensible, would not be reading fiction for young adults. He has been much praised for The Pigman, My Darling, My Hamburger, and … I Never Loved Your Mind. Zindel is a facile writer, has a brittle wise-guy humor, and is hideously up-to-date in his manipulation of the concerns of high-school students in middle America. (p. 11)

Twenty years ago, when Salinger was almost alone in sensing a new consciousness, librarians found Catcher in the Rye unsuitable for high-school students. Now that the kids are practically born that way and want to read Hesse, the schools buy quantities of books which endlessly imitate Salinger's style, his hero's discovery that everything is "phony," but which lack Salinger's intelligence and talent. Mr. Zindel is perhaps the foremost epigonous Salinger.

I Never Loved Your Mind … is such a squalid little book that it will make a gray Christmas indeed for the aging juvenile who finds it in the toe of his stocking. (p. 12)

Margaret Hentoff, "Little Private Lives," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; copyright © 1970 by NYREV, Inc.), December 17, 1970, pp. 11-12.

In The Pigman, Zindel has created a story which his narrators call an epic. It focuses on a lonely, old man, Mr. Pignati, whose story is told in odyssey-like movement. The terminus of the journey in the characters' intention is carefree enjoyment of life. The terminus of the journey in actuality becomes a beginning for the teenagers and an end for Mr. Pignati. (p. 1164)

The two young authors [who relate the story] call their writing a "memorial epic," in the opening oath, "The truth and nothing but the truth, until this memorial epic is finished, So Help Us God!" The scant invocation perhaps attests to the epic intention. The story opens in media res and it isn't until chapter four that we meet Mr. Pignati, the Pigman. Because Zindel puts the term epic into the mouths of the adolescents, it cannot be taken as a serious literary attempt. It may be more hyperbolic than actual; although the quality of tragedy attendant upon an epic is present, it does not dominate….

Certainly, the Pigman is not a tragic hero in an epic sense; he is a pathetic figure, bearing symbolic weight with the name given him, who shuffles through the pages of the book trailing two teenagers to what to him looks like a glory of joy but which ends as the final seal to his testimony of loneliness. The Pigman is the focus of the story which, symbolically, can be represented as a circle. The center is the Pigman; the circumference consists of two 180° arcs representing John and Lorraine [the narrators]. These arcs are not discrete, but continuous in movement around the center. Without the center the circumference would not be defined; likewise, without the circumference the center would be undefined. (p. 1165)

One of the notable features in the telling of the story is the almost indistinguishable shift from one author to the other across the chapters. Although the momentum of the action moves the story, the writing could easily snag as the narration moves from John to Lorraine. Zindel masters this movement so artfully that at times the chapters merge and the shift has to be worked back upon to discover where it occurred. (pp. 1165-66)

Despite [certain] weaknesses, Zindel has reflected through his adolescent writers an adolescent view of life. It represents a small population of precocious students, but the existence of such a population cannot be denied. The fictional adolescents relate episodes in their life which lead to a tragedy of death, which in turn becomes their moment of recognition. As a swift moving narrative, the story works well. Its lack of complexity fits the statement of intent made by the narrators in the opening oath "to record the facts, and only the facts." (p. 1175)

Loretta Clarke, "'The Pigman': A Novel of Adolescence," in English Journal (copyright © 1972 by The National Council of Teachers of English), November, 1972, pp. 1163-69, 1175.