Thursday, October 25, 2007


After Bad Monkeys, I had high hopes for Clifford Chase's Winkie. The premise - a teddy bear arrested for being a terrorist! - was promising. The execution, though, left something to be desired.

There's really three separate stories here. There's the story of Winkie's life as a stuffed animal passed down among a family. It's an interesting perspective, but the family life itself is pretty humdrum. I'm not sure how much of this part was supposed to be biographical/autobiographical, but if you have to name the characters after yourself and your family to make the narrative have meaning, it's not going to work for other people.

There's the story of Winkie coming to life, living out in the woods, and giving birth to, raising, and losing a daughter. Baby Winkie is an impossibly perfect plush madonna that basically gets treated as an object rather than a "person" by everyone involved in the story - even the author. I get the sense that this part was supposed to be some great allegory, but it's far too vague and abstract to make any sense.

And, of course, there's the story of Winkie's arrest and subsequent trial for terrorism. This was the selling point of the book, and the book's strongest point. The trial is appropriately surreal and Kafkaesque, but as satire it falls short because it's lacking in specifics. If I just want a Kafkaesque story about a trial, I'll read "The Trial." But despite the marketing, Winkie isn't about the trial, so much as the Big Great Philosophical Points the author's trying to make.

The whole thing struck me as the sort of navel-gazing you find in a college creative writing class short story, padded (stuffed?) out to novel length. (Being compared to David Sedaris and having a quote from someone in the Magnetic Fields does little to dispel the illusion of pretentiousness.)

I'm not sure how I'd have reacted to Winkie if it were billed more as a story about modern life viewed through the eyes of a teddy bear, rather than as the political satire it wasn't. I probably wouldn't have bothered picking it up (hence the reason for choosing the marketing angle they did), but if I did I might have enjoyed it a bit more.

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