Robert Newton Peck Christopher Lehmann-Haupt - Essay

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["A Day No Pigs Would Die" is a charming and simple] memoir in the form of a novel about the author's upbringing in the Shaker tradition on a Vermont farm in the 1920's. Indeed so perfectly fused are the understated rhetoric and action of Mr. Peck's story that if it achieves the popularity it probably deserves, it will seem ripe for the kind of parodies that Richard Bach's "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" has lately been getting.

For so determined has Mr. Peck been to dramatize in both his story and his dialogue the lack of "frills" of the ShakeWay that he often flirts with making his characters seem ludicrously stolid and simple. And were one not caught up in the emotion of his story, one might well give over to giggling….

And though at times Mr. Peck seems on the verge of sentimentalizing the relationship of young Bob and the pig he receives as a reward for helping that cow to calve, there is really not an ounce of sentimentality in the entire book. (Coyness, yes; sentimentality, no.)

Quite the contrary: it is a stunning little dramatization of the brutality of life on a Vermont farm, of the necessary cruelty of nature, and of one family's attempt to transcend the hardness of life by accepting it. And while,… there is no rhetoric about love—in fact nobody in "A Day No Pigs Would Die" ever mentions the word love, or any other emotion, for that matter—love nevertheless suffuses every page.

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "City Life and Country Life," in The New York Times (© 1973 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 4, 1973, p. 35.∗