Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Winkie

by Clifford Chase

Winkie offers readers a sort of odd, outrageous delight. A verve and a nostalgia . . . that it is no crime to indulge.” —The San Francisco Chronicle

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 256
  • Publication Date June 19, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4310-5
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $12.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 256
  • Publication Date May 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-1-5558-4623-7
  • US List Price $12.00

About The Book

In Cliff Chase’s scathingly funny and surprisingly humane debut novel, the zeitgeist assumes the form of a one-foot-tall ursine Everyman—a mild-mannered teddy bear named Winkie who comes to life and finds himself on the wrong side of America’s war on terror. After suffering decades of neglect from the children who once loved him, Winkie realizes that taking charge of his fate is as simple as knowing that he can do it, and so he hurls himself off the shelf, jumps out the window, and takes to the forest. But just as he is discovering the joys and wonders of mobility, self-determination, even true love, this small brown creature of indeterminate gender gets trapped in the jaws of a society gone rabid with fear and paranoia.

Having come upon the cabin of the mad professor who stole his beloved, Winkie is suddenly surrounded by the FBI, who instantly conclude that he is the evil mastermind behind dozens of terrorist attacks that have been traced to the forest. Terrified and confused, Winkie is brought to trial, where the prosecution attempts to seal the little bear’s fate by calling upon witnesses from the trials of Galileo, Socrates, John Scopes, and Oscar Wilde.

Emotionally gripping and intellectually compelling, Winkie introduces the most memorable protagonist since the Velveteen Rabbit, and—with the help of a lesbian Moslem cleaning woman, a stuttering attorney, and a Lacan-spewing bear cub—brilliantly exposes the cruel absurdities of our age and explores what it means to be human in an increasingly barbaric world.

Tags Literary

Praise

“Winkie is a remarkable character, made vibrant and utterly convincing flesh (plush?) under Chase’s masterful hand. This is a hauntingly beautiful, lovely and strange, funny and sly, surreptitiously moving book.” —David Rakoff, author of Don’t Get Too Comfortable

“Winkie is a luminous achievement—a magical, eccentric novel about the subversive imagination, and about the power of anarchic play. I recommend this book with the utmost enthusiasm and joy.” —Wayne Koestenbaum, author of Jackie Under My Skin and Andy Warhol

“The courtroom scenes are wildly, brilliantly comic. . . . But Chase isn’t just being cute here. Tinkering with the idea that a teddy bear is a repository for all our insecurities, he throws even our largest concerns at him: love, God, death, patriotism, racism, sexual identity and what it means to be human (or in Winkie’s case, human-like). Winkie’s clearly meant to speak to our fears about innocent ‘detainees’ and ‘military tribunals’ becoming kangaroo courts, but the author is never didactic on this point; at heart, the book is an argument for openness and inner strength on every imaginable front. Chase makes this out-of-left-field story work brilliantly; a funny and sweet yet seriously topical novel.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“The section devoted to Winkie’s trial is a minor masterpiece of ridiculousness, in which the prosecution’s move to end the trial after it has presented its side sounds uncomfortably close to what we read in the newspapers. This book is way too odd to be sentimental, and its political sensibility shuttles easily between the cartoonish and the shrewd. Chase puts himself in the same league as David Sedaris with this unclassifiable debut.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Bizarre, exhilarating, captivatingly creative, and extremely ridiculous . . . The most ambitious book of the year so far.” —Entertainment Weekly

“[A] gripping and bizarre story of a teddy bear who gets involved in the war on terror. You will believe.” —GQ

“If your teddy bear were brought to trial under charges of terrorism, what would the verdict be? That’s the whimsical premise behind Winkie . . . [and] the early buzz has been as sweet as honey.” —Newsweek

“A mix of surreal comedy and political satire.” —Scott Veale, The New York Times

Winkie offers readers a sort of odd, outrageous delight. A verve and a nostalgia . . . that it is no crime to indulge.” —The San Francisco Chronicle

“A hilariously inventive . . . kitchen-sink drama [that] reads both as War on Terror spoof and stark family epic. But what elevates Chase’s work above simple cleverness is the magic of the prose itself, which derives beauty from all things.” —Time Out Chicago

“Of all the anti-Bush books out there, none is as wonderfully strange as Chase’s debut novel.” —Entertainment Weekly (from the Summer Musts list)

“Profound, heartfelt . . . [and] a little weird.” —Newsday

“The oddest novel we’ve read in a long time . . . dark one minute, hilarious the next, and amazingly readable. It’s also disconcerting in the best sort of way: We were torn between proceeding earnestly through it and stopping to try to figure out how Chase pulled it off.” —Arizona Republic

“Surreal and Sedaris-esque.” —Daily Candy

“In this wryly comic, paradoxically touching first novel, Chase delivers a cleverly original allegory on the absurdities of our terror-obsessed culture. . . . A masterfully measured social critique featuring a protagonist as endearing as any from the classics of childhood literature.” —Carl Hays, Booklist (starred review)

“Winkie endures his travails with a heartbreaking innocence and a will to survive, [and] in the process, becomes one of the most memorable stuffed animals since the Velveteen Rabbit. But Winkie is, by far, much more complicated. Was the Velveteen Rabbit ever equated with the Unabomber?” —Dallas Morning News

“An absurd, funny, but at times deeply moving satire . . . this smart, meaningful and brave little book is timely and welcome.” —Mandate

“Edgy and poetic . . . A hilarious parody of modern American justice.” —O Magazine

“Delicious first novel . . . lively writing . . . Winkie manages at once to tapinto the deep forests of literature, history, psychology, and science and to emerge as its own perfectly original specimen . . . Uproarious farce . . . A case study in everything a novel should be.” —Lauren Sanders, Bookforum

“Mesmerizing novel.” —Mikel Wadewitz, Out Magazine

“[Chase] has remembered those books from his youth well, but he writes them as we experience them now—knowing all we know, joy and freedom, but torment, grief, and injustice, too.” —Boris Kachka, New York Magazine

“A parable, a bedtime story, and a phenomenal character study of a teddy bear.” —New York Magazine

“Part revisionist memoir, part political satire about the age of the Patriot Act, Winkie . . . with it’s Sedaris-worthy humor, complex imagination . . . and heartfelt story line . . . stands poised to be the author’s big break . . . A Winkie cult is quickly materializing.” —Smith Galtney, Time Out New York

“My Winkie will soon be frayed, yellowed, and torn from multiple readings in the bathtub . . . as the next in a series of volumes by Dante, Proust . . . and Dr. Seuss.” —Veronica Shear, The Brooklyn Rail

“A hilariously subversive novel, an absurdist allegory that skewers contemporary America’s acquiescence to the over-reaching of the Patriot Act, xenophobic fear of all things Muslim . . . and fundamentalist paranoia about anything sexual . . . An eccentric triumph.” —Q Syndicate

“Though the protagonist is a stuffed animal, author Clifford Chase makes his story highly plausible, and one is shocked and dismayed to realize that some prison and courtroom scenes must be close to twenty-first century reality.” —Thomas Rankin, Magill Book Reviews

“Thoughtful, funny, bittersweet chronicle.” —Kit Reed, Hartford Courant

“Chase has concocted such a peculiar and novel concept with this story that you just can’t resist. Think Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence if the focus had been on the cool CGI bear, Teddy, instead of on that Sixth Sense kid. . . . Chase’s prose is shrewd and, at times, cynical, much like the character himself. . . . Winkie takes a fascinating concept and runs with it, providing us with an excellent character study of the unlikeliest of characters.” —Coline McEvoy, Patriot-News

“I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a fresh view of today’s current events and an artist’s reactions to them.” —Sarah Wienke, The Missourian

“Humorous, intelligent and sad contemporary criticism, written in extraordinarily sensitive prose . . . A novel of the most outstanding quality and originality.” —VG 6 stars out of 6 (Norway)

“Ingenious and bitingly hilarious.” —James MacGowen, The Ottawa Citizen (Canada)

“If Animal Farm were to bump into Monty Python in a dark alley, the result might be Winkie.” —Herald Sun (Australia)

“Chase’s achievement is to make Winkie seem more real than all the forces arrayed against him.” —Michael McGirr, Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

“Winkie is a luminous achievement—a magical, eccentric novel about the subversive imagination, and about the power of anarchic play. I recommend this book with the utmost enthusiasm and joy.” —Wayne Koestenbaum, author of Jackie Under My Skin and Andy Warhol

“Clifford Chase has done the unthinkable: made me stay up till noon reading about a teddy bear. I’m seriously considering getting a Winkie tattoo, if I can just figure out where to put it.” —Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields

“What Melville did for a whale, Chase has done for teddy bear Winkie—made him immortal and forever locked in our imagination.” —Frederic Tuten, author of Tin Tin in the New World

“Clifford Chase has written an absurdly believable novel that sharply parodies our unbelievably absurd times; a refreshing dose of political satire that respects your intelligence as well as your funny bone.” —Gerry Donaghy, Powell’s City of Books, Portland, OR, Book Sense quote

“The absurdity of the premise makes this book fun, and the depth of emotion makes it rewarding. A great parable of panic-driven hysteria. Metafictional madness meets anthropomorphic social commentary. What’s not to love?” —Justin Riley, Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop, Milwaukee, WI

“Clifford Chase has not only managed to write a quirky zeitgeist but also speaks of humanity in general, the development of the individual and of our culture, and our opportunities to either be truly alive or to just go through the motions. And amidst the book’s whimsical and wandering allegory, Chase manages to pull the heartstrings for this odd little teddy bear come to life.” —Wil Tietsort, Harry W. Schwartz Booksellers, Shorewood, WI

“Somewhere between Kafka’s The Trial and The Velveteen Rabbit falls Winkie, an utterly original ode to innocence for a world that looks for scapegoats because it’s easier than finding answers. Winkie, through his shiny brown glass orbs—and Clifford Chase, through those eyes and his own—sees us far more clearly than we see ourselves.” —Jean Nathan, author of The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright

Awards

A Book Marks Top 20 books for 2006
A Book Sense Selection
Long-listed for the 2008 Dublin IMPAC Award

Excerpt

Please state your name.

Clifford Chase.

And what was your relationship to the defendant?

He was my teddy bear.

How long have you known him?

Since I was born, really. Because first he was my mother’s, and then she passed him on to her kids. There were five of us, and I’m the youngest, so he was very old by the time he came to me.

What are your earliest memories of him?

I can remember, or I can imagine, I’m not sure which, lying in

my crib and holding him.

And that would that have been when, Mr. Chase?

I slept in a crib until I was almost five, so this could have been as late as 1963. I can remember, or almost remember, how his small body felt in my arms—small and plump. I can remember the com­fort I felt in his being smaller than myself.

Was there any indication, back then, that he was anything other than a normal toy?

No. Though, of course, to me he always seemed alive.

Why is that?

The way all toys seem alive to children, I guess. But there was something else . . . I think it was because his eyes opened and closed. They fell shut when you laid him down, and they opened again when he sat upright.

Why that in particular?

It made it seem like he could see me.

(“Objection,” says the prosecutor. “Speculation.” “Sustained,” says the judge. “The witness will please stick to facts, not feelings.”) Yes, sir. Now Mr. Chase . . . You said the bear belonged to your mother first.

Yes. She got him when she was nine or ten, for Christmas. She called him Marie.

Marie?

He was a girl then.

(The courtroom begins to murmur. “Order,” cries the judge. More murmuring. “Order!” Gavel blows. Silence.)

Where and when did the bear come into your mother’s possession?

That would have been in 1924 or ’25, in Chicago. She remem­bers that her parents bought him—or her—at Marshall Field’s.

So during all that time, from 1925 until quite recently, the defen­dant remained, to the best of your knowledge, in the custody of some­one in your family?

Yes—Oh, except once they left him in a motel room and had to go back for him. My brother cried and cried. That was before I was born.

(“Your honor,” says the prosecutor, “this so-called testimony . . .” He throws up his hands, as if helpless. “Sustained,” says the judge. “The defense will please get to the point.”)

Of course, your honor, of course . . . Mr. Chase, how can you be sure the defendant is the same bear that you grew up with?

I recognized him immediately—on the news, I mean.

But isn’t one teddy bear the same as another?

Oh, no, as anyone can see, Winkie is quite distinctive. I’ve never seen another bear with eyes like that, and his ears are much big­ger than other bears’ ears. Besides, he’s so worn out, and he’s been mended so many times, that his face has become completely his own. I looked into that face many times as a child, and so, as I said, I recognized his photo immediately. And then I made the connection to his disappearance from my parents’ house, which was about two years ago.

But no one reported this disappearance?

Normally one wouldn’t report a missing teddy bear. Now, of course, I would.

(General laughter.)

Mr. Chase, what do you remember most about the defendant?

I was a strange and lonely little boy, and it seemed like Winkie understood that. Because he looked strange and lonely, too. (The prosecutor shakes his head theatrically but makes no for­mal objection.)

So your memories of him are ones of love and comfort?

Yes.

Can you recall anything, anything at all, to indicate that the defen­dant would ever commit the serious crimes of which he has been accused?

No. He was a strange bear, but I think he was a good bear, and I still believe that. No matter what anyone says about him. Which is why I came forward.

Thank you. No further questions.

Reading Group Guide

1. Why do you think the author chose a teddy bear as the protagonist of an adult literary novel? What can such a character express that perhaps a more conventional protagonist couldn’t? What does a sentient teddy bear tell us about ourselves?

2. The novel begins with court testimony. What’s different about this defendant? Who is the witness and what does he reveal about Winkie and their history? What clues does the opening hold to the novel’s plot and genre?

3. This novel can be considered an amalgam of political satire, fable, and autobiography. What holds it all together? Does it hold together for you?

4. Chase’s description of the nighttime raid is designed to trigger associations with past news events and news makers for the reader. What familiar names or events did the scene suggest to you? How do they relate to the author’s introduction of Winkie to the readers? Why is his portrait sympathetic?

5. What kind of person is Winkie? How does he think? What is his basic worldview? What does he want from life?

6. What is the source of Winkie’s grief? What has been elusive, or temporary, throughout his life? Consider the first words uttered by Winkie in the novel (p. 8).

7. What does Winkie believe to be his crime? How does he regard the SWAT team, and how does the team react when they see him? Consider how their confusion (and Winkie’s ‘strangeness’) influences the level of violence in their response.

8. “He wanted both, and the delicious difference between the two” (p. 11). What is the object of Winkie’s desire in this instance, and when does he first feel it? He refers to his “not-yet-consciousness,” but is longing possible without consciousness?

9. The police, emergency workers, and ER doctors decide to respond as though there’s nothing unusual about the circumstances, and Winkie plays along. “His imitation of a heart monitor was poor, but that wasn’t the point” (p. 17). What is the point Winkie is making? Is there comfort in procedure? Consider what gets reinforced in the process and who has a stake in keeping it so. What, in turn, is sacrificed?

10. Who is Francoise, and what does she do for Winkie? How is she a kindred spirit? Why is she able to see what others do not?

11. “She was no one until Ruth came into the room, and sometimes not even then, not until Ruth spoke to her” (p. 25). Here the author seems to be talking about the way in which children imbue toys with life. What else can be described this way?

12. Marie notices that Ruth “often pretended to be fine when she wasn’t” (p. 29). What does Marie observe about Ruth in her interaction with each of the family members—Helen, John, Papa, and Mama? What is Ruth’s place in the family?

13. “For that moment . . . she was a creature in motion, her own being, apart from Ruth, a planet twirling in its own galaxy” (p. 36). What inspires Marie to imagine her independence? How does the same event animate Ruth?

14. The Science and Health articles read by Papa and Ruth discuss matters of consciousness, mortality, and existence. What are some of the arguments? (see pages 24, 40, and 44.) How do they apply to the silent observer and listener, Marie?

15. What is the name of the lawyer the judge selects to represent Winkie? What are the other options available? Is there always an imbalance of power when the government brings a case against an individual? What checks generally exist to correct the imbalance? Consider, for example, the mandate that juries must be made up of a defendant’s peers, and whether that’s applicable in this case.

16. Consider the nature of conspiracy theories, which seek to explain staggering events as a result of plots perpetrated by secret interests. Who generally advances those ideas? What, if anything, can disprove a conspiracy theory? When the chief fails to extract information from Winkie and Francoise, he begins spinning theories so outrageous that he has to “persuade himself of [them] again and again” (p. 68). Is his a conspiracy theory? In what ways does the chief feel powerless, and in what ways is he powerful?

17. The charges leveled against Winkie echo infamous cases in history that are now widely considered to have been symptomatic of social instability, anxiety, or power struggles rather than credible accusations. By including terrorism in this group, Chase suggests that our preoccupation with it also stems from other underlying social issues. Do you agree or disagree? What might some of those issues be?

18. “Sometimes it seemed to Winkie the world and the child were two trains on a collision course” (p. 87). How is Cliff on a collision course with the world? What is the Way of the World that Winkie wants to protect Cliff from knowing? (p. 116).

19. What topic dominates the discussion at Ruth and Dave’s house after the oldest boy’s school was integrated? What’s the basis for their hostility? How does it shape the boy’s attitude toward African Americans?

20. Why does the author show himself and family members using racial epithets? Did you find this upsetting? Do you think putting such conversations in print—as opposed to paraphrasing or censoring them—is justified?

21. How does parenthood change Winkie as a character? Does it make him more sympathetic, more human? Does it give his actions greater moral weight?

22. The nature of the professor’s terror campaign seems to be personal rather than political. What does his “back to the land” campaign consist of? What does it lack?

23. Baby Winkie becomes an object of desire for the professor, but the desire seems to be a complicated mess of erotic, intellectual, scientific, and voyeuristic cravings. Which of her attributes does he find most alluring, and why?

24. Speaking to the professor, Baby Winkie uses others’ words, quoting great thinkers and demonstrating her ability to speak his language while denying him what he’s after: herself. Who does she quote to him? What effect do her actions have on the professor? What is her ultimate act of defiance, and how is it foreshadowed?

25. When Winkie sees his child aglow as she wills herself into disappearance, he realizes that “he had given birth to a saint” (p. 151). How does he see her martyrdom, both in its limitations and its meaning? If Baby Winkie is a Christlike figure, what does that make Winkie? Consider how that characterization corresponds with his role in the rest of the novel.

26. When Winkie reads his child’s memoirs, they conclude with an excerpt from anothers’ reaction to the death of a writer. How does grief mix with hope here? What message does this ending try to impart to Winkie?

27. The reader is privileged with information that makes the charges against Winkie seem ludicrous. But consider the jury in his trial. What information do they receive, and from who? Why are the jurors placed behind the curtain, and how would that influence their perception of the evidence and the defendant?

28. Societal ideas of criminality can vary from time and place. For example, early American societies viewed criminals as sinners, ordinary people who succumbed to temptation and who represented the potential for weakness in everyone. Later, that perception changed to criminals as social abnormalities, misfits, and monsters. How do these ideas influence our conception of crimes, justice, and punishment? Consider the way Winkie (and other defendants in the war against terror) are presented to the public. How does the prosecution connect Winkie’s odd or unusual characteristics to criminality? Are those links factual or emotional, and does the difference matter to the jury?

29. Chase is clearly satirizing the way the threat of terrorism has been used to justify the suspension of longstanding legal rights. He imagines a court case in which the prosecution subverts not only basic court protocol (such as the right of the accused to face his accusers, which here becomes a charade) but also the laws of time and space. What are the most outlandish aspects of the prosecution’s case? What are the most banal, and perhaps even familiar, tactics used by prosecutors to manipulate court proceedings? Consider the way the prosecutors phrase questions, order the witness’s appearances, and share information with the defense.

30. The testimony at Winkie’s trial conflates him and his crimes with some of history’s most celebrated defendants. Consider what common threads connect these defendants. In what ways were they distinguished? What conventions did they challenge? What were the outcomes of most of their trials? How has history come to view them?

31. The expert witnesses who testify on Winkie’s behalf give him hope: “First his body had been affirmed . . . and now his soul” (p. 205). Who are the witnesses? Who provides evidence for his body, and who provides evidence for his soul, and what types of evidence does each expert offer?

32. Though Winkie does not know why he decides to testify, what does his decision say about his outlook? Why does he not let his strange, distressing dream change his mind? What does he reveal in his testimony?

33. The press “had never referred to the hermit as anything other than ‘the kindly old man of the forest.’ Six different books by that title would be arriving in supermarkets and bookstores soon.” (p. 220). Discuss the role of the media in covering trials, their interest in its outcome, and their influence in shaping public opinion.

34. In the end, Winkie’s trial hinges not on fact but on an unexpected ally on the prosecutor’s team. What factors, direct and indirect, lead assistant Number Twelve to begin to doubt Winkie’s guilt and to become sure of his innocence? What are her motives for revealing the suppression of evidence to the court? Consider her relationship with the prosecutor. What is Chase suggesting about the nature of justice?

35. After the jury is deadlocked and a new trial is requested, where does Winkie go? What excites him about Cairo? What ordinary act becomes, for him, life-affirming?

Suggestions for further reading:

Franz Kafka, Collected Stories
Donald Barthelme, The Dead Father, Sixty Stories
Frederic Tuten, Tintin in the New World
Virginia Woolf, Orlando
Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde
Frances Hill, The Salem Witch Trials Reader
Plato: Apology
Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams
Temple Grandin, Thinking in Pictures