Peck states, "He [Papa] bent down and pulled the crazy quilt up around my throat. I could tell by the smell of his hand that he'd killed pigs today. There was a strong smell to it, like stale death. That smell was almost always on him, morning and night. Until Saturday, when he'd strip down to the white and stand in the kitchen washtub, up to his shins in hot soapy water, and wash himself clean of the pigs and the killing...when you kill pigs for a living, you can't always smell like Sunday morning. You just smell like hard work." (page 19-20) Papa reminds me of my own father who is one of the hardest workers I know. My dad constantly works on vehicles, lawn mowers, anything that is broken, really. His hands always smell of grease or other auto shop smells. My dad uses a special soap to help take the grease off or even the smell of gasoline, but as I stop to reminisce childhood memories, I can smell that shop soap. It has a distinct smell which is recognizable. Now I can infer that may be what hard work actually smells like.
The novel sneaks in tid-bits of history during the early 1920s when Calvin Coolidge was President. Throughout the novel, we are reminded of how men once tended the fields while women tended their homes.
As payment for young Roberts help in delivering a baby calf and saving his neighbors prized cow, Apron, Mr. Tanner rewarded Robert with a young pig which he names Pinky. "She was the first thing I had really wanted, and owned. At least, the first thing of value."(page 27) As I turned the pages, I was taken to years past when there wasn't much more to life than Plain People. Farming was a way to make an honest living and was often passed from generation to generation. Mr. Tanner, Robert's neighbor, said, "What better can a man be? There's no higher calling than animal husbandry, and making things live and grow. We farmers are stewards. Our lot is to tend all of God's good living things, and I say there's nothing finer." (page 122)
As we turn every page and begin every new chapter we slowly see Robert's coming of age. He is partly a man now expected to tend to the farm once his dad's health ailes. Yet, we still see a snippets of a young adolescent who has big dreams (such as owning a store bought coat one day). Although Pinky was meant to be a productive member of Robert's farm, as a barren sow she never would help earn income to pay off the farm. She was only a pet, at best. The title foreshadows what will come of Pinky's demise. The details will tug at your heart strings while your eyes fill with tears. Anyone who has shared the bond between a pet and owner can connect to the emotions Robert feels in those fatal moments. We witness a private internal battle as Robert witnesses his first butchering--that of his beloved Pinky. He is given gentle words of wisdom by his father, "That's what being a man is all about, boy. It's just doing what's got to be done." (page 129)
Relevant themes which I noticed throughout the novel include: fairness, the ideas of "being rich" and "being poor," the importance of education, and death.
No review I could give would be more accurate than the one I found on the inside cover:
"A small, rich, wise book full of pathos and an essential home-bred humanity that is becoming more and more scarce in the world. It lights up a way of life that is not so long past and shows...how very much we have lost." --Winston Graham
There are a few instances of foul language in the text. Nothing too vulgar, but some parents may not want their kids reading any cuss words.
If you want to take peak inside of the book or purchase it, you can go here. You can go to Robert Newton Peck's page to learn more about the author.