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Winkler unleashes 'Crocodile', snares an audience

Published:Sunday | September 5, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Anthony Winkler, after reading from his novel, 'Crocodile', at Bookland, New Kingston, last Wednesday afternoon. - Photo by Mel Cooke

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

In last Wednesday's reading from four chapters of his latest novel, Crocodile, Anthony Winkler tread on literary ground that would have been familiar to his readers in the eager audience which turned out at Bookland in New Kingston. Winkler engaged with matters of the heart and the accompanying pliable flesh, main character Josephine taking a potshot at a God which would not allow her to commit suicide in peace and there was even a madman, 'Truck', though not of the same proportions (literally and figuratively) of Aloysius in The Lunatic.

However, although the parts of Crocodile that Winkler read were often downright funny and there were a couple anatomical references that titillated the women, the book engages a very serious matter - the terribly hard life and persistent abandoning of Josephine.

Humour and sorrow are intertwined from the early stages, in the prologue about the Rio Cobre in its different moods during its passage through the Bog Walk gorge. It swelled to sweep some women off the bridge, a relative commenting that one of them, Aunt Ruby, was sour-faced as she had never been while alive - this a lady who had found some good in every person, even "back-biting domestic helpers" and "fornicating pastors".

Josephine decides to take her life after getting a letter from former lover Wilfred Jenkins informing her that his business marriage to an American woman was being taken seriously by the woman who "pin me like a dog ... ". She knew that there was no woman powerful enough to hold down Wilbert against his will and, in the absence of choices, decides to go into the river to be eaten by the crocodile which lives there.

Constant chuckles

But it is the madman who believes he is a truck and interjects 'beep beep' in his speech who hauls Josephine back to the bank. After castigating him ("Because of you me going sleep dead and miserable when he could be dead and happy") she goes home and writes Wilbert a reply which begins with "Dear Dog", and says "may you be struck down dead".

But the chuckles in Bookland subsided when Winkler read about Josephine's hard life - an unwanted child, chased out of her aunt's house after an unwanted brush with her relative's partner, abandoned by every man, to this last encounter with Wilbert with whom she had a three-year relationship and who left her nothing but a board shack.

The final section of the reading, from chapter 13, picked up on Josephine's life when she was working as a domestic at a manse and there was laughter and gasps at his daring as Crocodile veered into the finer points of 'maid grinding'.

Winkler made it clear that Josephine is a fictitious character, but physically she is based on a maid who worked in his home when he was 14 years old.

The listeners wanted more from Crocodile, but Winkler stopped there. There was a request for Greasy Leg, a short story which he had read at the Calabash International Literary Festival. Somebody asked where that story was from, meaning which book it is included in. Winkler grinned as he replied "my dirty mind". He did read a touching tale, though, from The Annihilation of Fish and Other Stories.