Monday, February 18, 2008

A New Frontier in the War on Terror

You might expect many things from a novel about a teddy bear that is alive and is on trial for terrorism. You might think it'd be funny, satirical and biting (like the book jacket wants you to think). You might think it'd be over-the-top and ultimately unfunny. You might be concerned that it'd be shrill and humorless. And depending on your ideological viewpoint, you might absolutely hate the whole idea and want to call Homeland Security on the author, the bookstore, and anyone who blurbed it.

You probably wouldn't expect it to move you to tears, though. But Winky, by Clifford Chase, actually did make me cry, several times. Because, imagine your life as a teddy bear. You belong to someone, but you are just one of many of that person's things. You're aware of your surroundings, so you know what you're missing by not being human. You have a person that you love deeply, and for a while your love is reciprocated. Then, the person you love forgets about you, but not before a bunch of ugly, even violent, transitional scenes.

If you've seen Toy Story 2, you understand the part about the abandonment. Winky hammers home the part about the lack of freedom. For years, Winky couldn't move, nor did he have any other semi-living toy for company. The plight Winky finds himself in as the novel unfolds is especially poignant, for he was granted a brief period of freedom only to have it snatched away. He searched all his life for love and acceptance, for another like him, and so acute was his longing that simple validation was deeply satisfying.

Does this remind you of anything? Maybe the ugly tales that continue to emerge of innocent, peaceful people who've escaped from totalitarian regimes in the Middle East undergoing indignities from harassment to detention? Or maybe the last part reminds you of what it was like not all that long ago for gay people, and what it continues to be like from gay people in ultraconservative environments? The beauty of this book is that it works as both a literal reading and a metaphor. Even if you put your best English-professor goggles on while reading this book, I dare you to never have the urge to put down the book for a minute to phone your parents and ask whatever became of that stuffed rabbit/bear/cat/whathaveyou that you never used to leave home without.

This book is engaging, absorbing, and an excellent example of a fresh take on a tried-and-true idea. The Velveteen Rabbit is a classic children's book. I also liked one called Behind the Attic Wall about dolls that were alive, and there was apparently a whole genre of doll autobiographies around the turn of the twentieth century. Toy Story and Toy Story 2 were the biggest movies I can think of about living toys, but I'm sure there have been many others. Yet, Clifford Chase took this idea and did something new with it. I give this one a very high recommendation, and am glad I bought it instead of just borrowing it.

No comments: