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Winner of the 2007 George Garrett Fiction Prize, published by Texas Review Press in 2008.
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A dark comedy written in rollicking prose, Hog to Hog deals with excessive development in a relatively pristine Midwestern rural area. The spoils of misadventure go to the top polluters like Dick Columbus, who makes money for the state’s coffers with his Wheeleroo!, an ATV mega event that runs roughshod over the local nature sanctuary. Columbus wins a seat in the state Senate. Bernie Sapp, the novel’s protagonist, lacks political savvy and power and ends up in one of Columbus’s pet projects, the newly constructed prison. With a culture based on plunder and socio-economic injustice, the ordinary man’s American Dream turns into the American Nightmare.

“Jack Smith’s stunning first novel Hog to Hog proves William Styron’s thesis that ‘only a great satirist can tackle the world’s problems and articulate them.’ The pace is feverish and rollicking, with non-stop action revealing new heights of national folly, greed and excess. Bernie Sapp, Smith’s protagonist, is by turn a fearful, angry, arrogant, acquisitive, horny and touching Everyman as he scrambles avidly for his slice of the pie. Smith’s prose is crisp and acerbic, his themes reminiscent of Heller, Southern and Nathaniel West: surely this is what black humor is all about.” –Geoffrey Clark, author of Wedding in October and Jackdog Summer

“Boisterous and compelling, Hog to Hog is often a fun house mirror reflecting American materialism, greed, and crassness. Jack Smith’s spot-on dialogue will make you laugh; this award-winning tale, the taller it grows, will convince you to treasure it as good old satire.” –Mark Wisniewski, author of Confessions of a Polish Used Car Salesman and All Weekend with the Lights On.

REVIEWS

From Pleiades, 30.1 by Man Martin:

Every day Raymond “Big Oz” Osmond begins his job for porkprocessing giant Pork Rite, paddling into the middle of Lake La Poo, his nickname for a pond of run-off fecal matter and urine, using a net and skimmer to make sure the pump at the bottom stays unclogged. Dependably, one day the canoe he uses to do this, tips over, and Oz dies a death unspeakable.

This may well be the central metaphor in Jack Smith’s debut
novel, Hog to Hog, which won the Texas Review Press’s George Garrett Fiction Prize in 2007: we are all floating on a shit lake provided courtesy of big business, but are too dimwitted to realize until it’s too late. (The main character’s name is Sapp.)

Smith’s fiction and reviews have appeared in numerous journals
such as The Southern Review, Texas Review, and Georgia Review. In 2002, with Eddie Girdner, he co-authored Killing Me Softly, a nonfiction study of the struggle for environmental justice in the face of the toxic waste industry in Smith’s home state of Missouri. As in Killing Me Softly, in Hog to Hog Smith places his environmental passion front and center, but here we have an added dimension. Not only are the consequences of industrial society toxic, so are its rewards. We can’t help recognizing, although Bernie Sapp himself cannot, the connection between the crap he buys at the Big Guy Food & Fuel, the crap his rival and nemesis Dick Columbus pedals as an “investment,” and the crap being dumped into the air and water. Indeed, if anything is more toxic than the contents of Lake La Poo, it’s the contents of Bernie’s refrigerator.

What is hilarious and maddening about Bernie Sapp’s dreams is not just that they are unattainable to him, but they are so pitifully shallow. His love for his wife is just frustrated horniness and a voyeuristic hunger to catch her cheating on him. A day in the great outdoors for Bernie means hunting squirrels—he wistfully speaks of deer as “big game” and puts his catch in “squirrel bags.” His creature comforts are cigarettes—his brand of choice is Casual and Smooth—and a processed snack called “Dead Ringers.” The only thing he loves passionately is the brief-lived sense of freedom he gets riding his ATV through brush and stream—brief-lived because of his vehicle’s insatiate thirst for gas, and that in this world, off-road is as prone to traffic jams as the highway. Just about the only pleasure we can fully identify with is the release he feels when peeing, and even this is just another barb in frustrations that fence him on all sides. While waiting in gridlocked traffic on his way to Wheeleroo!—an ATV Fest sponsored by Bernie’s nemesis Dick Columbus—Bernie’s poor bladder becomes so full that, unable to pee, he must beg to be catheterized by an unemployed EMT.

Smith has to thread a pretty fine needle here, and he does it well.
On one side, he avoids letting his sincere outrage over the rape of the environment turn into preachiness thanks to a maniacal comic voice that Geoffrey Clark (Wedding in October and Jackdog Summer) rightly compares to Joseph Heller and Nathanael West. On the other side, however, he has to keep his novel from becoming a prose version of The Simpsons. Intermittently, it threatens to do just that with Smith’s sometimes heavy-handed jokes: Four Wheeler University’s acronym FWU is shortened midway through the book to simply FU. Smith has to be forgiven such excesses; like any great humorist, he knows just how far to go and then goes one step further. What ultimately prevents Bernie Sapp from turning into Homer Simpson is Smith’s unrelenting satire: there is no respite here, no sentimental moment or promise of redemption or a lesson learned, just pure darkness.

Hog to Hog is not a book for every reader. We can pity Bernie Sapp,and the fact we often do is a testament to Smith’s ability to evoke empathy out of absurdity, but we cannot like him, much less admire him. The gratification of reading this comes from the sardonic confirmation of all our worst fears. Can things get worse after Big Oz takes a header into Lake La Poo? They can. They do. The final scene which Bernie—on a work-release program—polishes brass doorknobs for the man who cuckolded him, robbed him, put his son in a coma, and falsely imprisoned him, is comic in the way the best of Evelyn Waugh and HL Mencken are comic. Hoping we are better than Bernie Sapp, we creepingly suspect we are not, but console ourselves knowing what he doesn’t.

We are in the middle of Shit Lake in a shaky canoe and no paddle.
—Man Martin

From Mid-American Review, Volume XXIX, number 2, Spring 2009, by Steve Edgehouse

The creeping dread of megacommerce, Walmarts and Olive Gardens popping up on property we knew as kids as farms and fields, forecasts the Midwest as one big parking lot, decimating the land and the livelihood of all us flyover states. It is eminent domain in the name of all-you-can-eat breadsticks. This portent lies heavily on Jack Smith and his debut novel, the invasive, hilarious Hog to Hog.

Everyman protagonist Bernie Sapp supervises Pork Rite #37, a factory pig farm that’s twice honored his waste-management acumen with its Hog Man of the Month Award. His wife Vera may or may not sleeping with her boss, Dick Columbus, local business magnate and sponsor of Wheeleroo!, a national ATV extravaganza whereby four-wheeler enthusiasts ride roughshod over nature preserves.

Bernie’s pliant enough, content to work, retreat to an empty house (Vera and Columbus, suspiciously,work very late), and whittle each night away drinking Big Suds Chief beer, smoking Casual Extra Smooths as son Red watches TV, and hunting squirrel on his wooded property on the weekends. As Bernie’s laconic existence is wrested from him by recondite corporate forces beyond his control, Midwestern readers can easily imagine Bernie’s straits as their own.

Late one evening Columbus—when he isn’t slapping Vera on the ass—pitches Bernie his latest investment “opportunity”: Four Wheeler University, a training school built by the “residents” of Dick’s last
project, the Rooster Correctional Facility. All Bernie has to do is to max out his credit cards, sell his timber out back, and buy into a twisted American Dream, one that sounds like a Ponzi scheme and smells like pig manure. Columbus explains that plunking down all he has (and more) is Bernie’s one chance at making it: “‘The U.S. is the best society in the whole goddamn world. And that’s what we have up here in this country. Not some kind of goddamn communist bullshit company where no one’s got a choice …. But capitalism where the man with the brains, the brawn, and the dough can make things happen.’”

The way Smith frames Bernie’s eventual acquiescence—through detail-rich interior monologue—it’s clear the decision was never his, really, but in fact the culmination, the development, of a long con. The illusion of choice. In rapid succession, Bernie loses everything—job, wife, kid, freedom—and finds himself longing for less fettered days, “snuggling up on the couch with Vera and then ending up in bed doing it. It was like everything was just right and couldn’t be more right. Where did it all go? Where? Where?” The best satires show a measure of fidelity to reality in the face of plotted impetuousness, and Smith’s Hog to Hog deftly makes Bernie’s plight parabolic yet all too real.

—Steve Edgehouse, BGSU

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