WINKIE by Clifford Chase (Grove Press), 236 pages, $21.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
Winkie is a teddy bear. A very self-aware teddy bear, with mangy fur and mangled ears and one painfully lazy eye, whose owner, a five-year-old version of author Clifford Chase, is not yet potty trained.
After months of neglect, Winkie outgrows Clifford even as Clifford outgrows him. He wills himself to life, slips off the shelf, out the bedroom window and into the world, where he's promptly caught on the wrong side of America's war on terror.
Such is the ridiculously sublime premise of Chase's debut novel, a work of terrific imagination that also demands some suspension of disbelief by readers. After all, Winkie is no whiny honey-lover named Winnie, but, rather, an anthropomorphic everybear put on trial to answer for all 9,678 of society's ills, among them terrorism, treason, attempted murder, blasphemy, witchcraft, ritual satanic abuse - and for subscribing to the false doctrine that the sun is the centre of the universe and it is the Earth that moves.
Tried by a kangaroo court (figuratively speaking; no marsupials are actually present), where a stuttering lawyer named Unwin defends him against a string of unimpeachable accusers (the U.S. military, Pope Urban the 8th, the Oracle at Delphi, witnesses from the trials of Socrates, Galileo and Oscar Wilde), Winkie is one of the most tragic and huggable characters in modern literature. If only Atticus Finch or Johnny Cochrane would come to his rescue.
Although less ambitious than Animal Farm, this is an equally shrewd social satire that is also silly, sad and genuinely touching, with enough wry humour to offset its sweetness.
Chase reads October 27 and is interviewed October 28.