There are three central characters in Dreaming Pigs; all are human. The pig (yes, there is an actual pig involved), whose name is Grace, is ultimately not truly a central character, although she should be.
More about that later. First, we are introduced to Raney McCullers,
an elderly black man whose eight-year-old granddaughter Angela has a defective
heart that is "already giving out." Raney, who essentially raised his granddaughter, loves her dearly and will do anything to try to save her young life. Unfortunately, that desire leads him into the less than loving hands of Dr. Goules of City Hospital who sees Angela not as a person whose life is precious but as an opportunity to experiment. She pressures Raney into signing consent forms for a "xenotransplant"
as a last ditch effort to save the girl's life. Actually, the good doctor is
less interested in Angela's life and more interested in seeking notoriety as a
"pioneering surgeon," the first to do a "pig to human heart transplant". Angela ultimately dies, the doctor gets her fifteen minutes of fame and Raney, broken-hearted, seeks revenge.
The second character we meet is Evelyn Turner, twenty-five years old and recently divorced. While driving to a job she doesn't like one day, she finds herself stuck in traffic and is startled to find a strange man demanding she let him into her car:
"She looked over at the swaying trees beside the road. In the chaos of the mounting storm and bumper to bumper traffic a man was walking along the expressway, maybe a bum, maybe the driver of that
broken down car. Evelyn looked over and assured herself that the passenger door was locked."
Precaution is necessary but Evelyn abandons caution when she sees a small dog wandering lost amidst the traffic, in danger of being killed. She rushes out of her car to rescue the dog and, in so doing, becomes vulnerable to the strange man.
"This time it was the man in the large overcoat. He just rammed right into Evelyn. This man might walk all slumped over but he was built like a tank and completely knocked the wind out of her. The dog leaped
out of her arms and into the open car door. If only it had done that earlier."
Others are chasing this strange man who as it turns out doesn't have long to live, having been shot in the chest. Why is he being chased? Who are those doing the chasing? Evelyn is ultimately forced to flee the other men who are more threatening to her than the first. In her panic, she runs one man over. Suddenly she is guilty of a hit and run, of murder. Suddenly, in just going to work, she is transformed into a fugitive from the law.
And all she wanted to do was help save a puppy.
The third central character is Dean Malloy, a six-foot-five animal vet whose face is damaged severely in an auto accident. He is lucky to be alive, and when he meets Evelyn and Raney at City Hospital
he is living on little more than large doses of pain killers. His face is so disfigured for the time being that he is ashamed to be out in public. The strange man
who died in Evelyn's car turns out to be Dean's father, Jake Malloy.
The three are in the hospital when Raney, who goes there to kill Doctor Goules to avenge Angela, instead chooses to steal the doctor's prize experiment, a pig that has human genes in it. A multi-million dollar pig, the doctor's pride and joy. Feeling that the loss of the pig would hurt the doctor even more than the loss of her life, Raney picks up the porker and runs from the hospital. Evelyn and Dean, who have their own issues with Doctor Goules, find themselves fleeing the hospital after him. The three are eventually thrown together in trying to escape to New Orleans where Raney has relatives
who will hide him. Three is the human total, for there are actually five fugitives
-- if we add the stolen pig and Evelyn's dog.
Lynne Carver introduces these characters in a well-written and dramatic series of scenes.
Her descriptive scenes bring the reader right into the story; the first third of this book is very nicely done.
But then Carver falters and starts to take a few false steps. One is having Dean wrestle professionally (the human trio desperately needs money to be able to continue to hide from the FBI). A promoter approaches Dean in a bar and, seeing the size of him and his damaged face, declares him to be a natural "villain". This would all be fine except, up to now, Dean was in constant extreme pain due to his head injuries. He is continually popping pain killers. His swollen face and stitches are still tender to the touch...but suddenly he is going to wrestle?
Also disappointing is the advancement of the plot, which becomes little more than a standard "chase" plot in which the fugitives are hiding from the authorities.
The writing is good, but having been introduced to a pig with human genes (who actually can speak some human words of speech!) we expect more than a standard chase plot. Why introduce us to such a creature and then make the pig nothing more than a reason for the FBI to be chasing Dean and Evelyn and Raney? Grace the pig could just as easily have been a bag of money stolen from the hospital and have produced essentially the same results as we get here.
So it is that the pig should have been a central character but is not. Nothing is really done with this startling premise. The pig is really little more than a "McGuffin", as Alfred Hitchcock would say, a device that is necessary only to move the story along. There is also a suggestion from Evelyn that the dog she's found contains the reincarnated soul of Jake Malloy. But that
also goes essentially nowhere. Why title a book Dreaming Pigs and
then have the pig not be truly central to the story?
What we have in the end is a book that starts out with very good characters and the promise of an above-average storyline
but becomes little more than a rather standard fugitive tale. Carver, an
obviously talented writer, does not deliver on the premise offered in the beginning of the book. Still, Dreaming Pigs is recommended to those readers seeking an adventure tale on a cold winter's weekend. The book is entertaining, even though, unlike the pig of the book's cover, the story does not truly take wing and fly to new heights.