It takes a special book to stick in one’s memory for over thirty years. There are some I remember because I read them over and over, but then there are those that I remember because of the sheer ideaness and atmosphere imprinted on my young brain (there’s also the category of Awful Things that Happened to Animals genre, which caused a less happy kind of imprinting). I must have read Interstellar Pig shortly after it release in 1984, and it remained one of those books that I remembered in sections now and again. Not the title, of course, but strangely enough, you put ‘young adult,’ ‘aliens’ ‘pig’ into Google, and it comes up with the book in a flash, so it was easy for me to track it down for a wander down memory lane.
It is with pleasure that I realized it was still an interesting, engaging read.
Barney is sixteen, and trapped with his parents at a two-week rental college on the coast coast, a beachfront location that does absolutely nothing for his sunburn-prone skin but seems to serve a purpose for his status-hunting parents, but does give him a chance to catch up on his science-fiction reading. The caretaker informs them that the sea captain who built the cottage kept his brother locked in the front room for twenty years. Barney is hoping for more information, perhaps a ghost story or two, when the caretaker has to abandon story-telling to settle in the next-door neighbors who have an obsessive interest in Barney’s cottage. Barney’s intrigued by their cosmopolitan personalities and by the game they continually reference.
“But they didn’t seem to appreciate my wit. Barely moving their heads, their eyes met; three pairs of eyes meeting equally somehow, as though there were only two of them. And I thought of the jagged pits and troughs in the windowsills of my room, and I felt uneasy for the first time. A curtain flapped gently at the window. The others in the room remained as still as reptiles in the sun.”
To say much more would enter spoiler territory, as the plot moves quickly and has a couple of interesting twists with an earlier scene providing nice foreshadowing for the climactic event. Slater builds suspense well, and I think that the atmosphere of fear he created might have helped stick this book in my memory. Characterization is perhaps a weaker point, but its more than adequate for the story. I’d say for my 2017 re-read, although Barney’s age is supposed to be sixteen, he feels more like twelve or thirteen in modern terms.
The writing is solid, feeling more sophisticated than most of the young adult I’ve read in recent years. Like many teens, Barney’s descriptions of his parents are ruthlessly honest, but there’s also a measure of acceptance there, and eventually fondness, that elevates it above the simple sarcastic dismissal. The three people next door have traveled a lot and “seemed exotic, as though English was not their native language.” It is cleverly conveyed through their dialogue, though Barney never remarks on it but that once. “Ugh! You let the milk go sour again, Manny,’ Zena groaned. ‘Can’t you learn to recollect the date?'”
At 197 pages, it goes by too quickly. A fun little book with a great finale, and a final flourish of well-earned humor. You just never know who will win the great game.