Winky by George Saunders, 1997
The magic trick:
Using what appears to be a simple switching-POV structure but surprising in the final section
The mechanics of this story seem fairly obvious at first. We have a section from Neil’s point of view that winds up creating an image in our minds of Winky as a monster.
Then we have a section from Winky’s point of view that paints her as pretty much the most sympathetic character in all of literature.
Something’s gotta give in the third and final section, right?
Remarkably, the final section is again from Neil’s point of view yet the reader’s sympathy doesn’t turn away from Winky; it doubles down and only increases. Neil’s childhood memories of his sister and their troubles together are guaranteed tugs at the heartstrings. The story’s structure isn’t as simple as it first seemed, just as Neil’s plight isn’t as simple a fix as he’d hoped. And that’s quite a trick on Saunders’s part.
“Do you need help determining who that person is?” said Tom Rodgers. “Your oatmeal-crapper?”
“No,” said Yaniky.
“Excellent,” said Tom Rodgers. “Now write the name and under it write the major way in which you perceive this person to be crapping in your oatmeal. Be frank. This is just between you and me.”
On an erasable markerboard permanently mounted in the dummy’s chest Yaniky wrote, “Winky: Crazy-looking and too religious and needs her own place.”
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