Bare knuckle boxers, drunk abusive fathers, prison free protagonists, a spot of classic literature references, drug dealing and a touch of rape are just some of the tired clichés Pig Iron uses to tell the story of a gypsy traveller trying to get by after five years locked up. But while it may be using a students most popular subject matter, Pig Iron is a thrill to read. You can do wonders even with the expected.
Pig Iron tells the tale of John-John, a gypsy who did something bad enough to get him locked up for five years and now wants to live without any troubles. He gets a job driving an ice cream van shortly after getting out and also picks up a puppy he names Coughdrop on the way. It feels a little like a coming of age story as he finds romance with a girl in the rough Nook area and how he plans to live from now on, learning about all the wonderful things he’s been missing out on. Like mobile phones and sex. But as the going gets good, the good gets ready to go. It isn’t long before he ends up in trouble with a group of thuggish lads and his life quickly comes under threat. The story rallies up a great sense of tension and no matter what generic ground it covers, the voice and pace keep it interesting.
Pig Iron does have some bad blood going around though, namely due to the back story segments which fracture the tale. In the back story we learn of Mac Wisdom, John-John’s dad, and these are the parts which contain most of the clichés and don’t add much to the overall plot. Having John-John talk of his father in the present is enough to get a picture of what kind of guy he was, but these back stories just tell what we can already work out. There are no surprises here and I often found myself just reading on for the next genuinely interesting present day event. It isn’t all good in the present however, as the thugs which feel threatening in their numbers and actions quickly turn into a bit of a joke. They aren’t just thugs, they are Nazi, paedophilic, murdering, drugged up, rapist thugs. Too much.
Pig Iron has a heart though, and the journey is worth going through for the thrills and spills it throws out. It’s all about the ice cream wars.