In my last post, I explored how readers have been put-off by Poppy’s ugliness; yet, I see the juxtaposition between Poppy’s physical beauty and moral grotesquerie as the element that renders her irreplaceable. She is realistic and relevant to today’s culture; Eco states, “ugliness is relative to the times and to cultures, what was unacceptable yesterday may be acceptable tomorrow, and what is perceived as ugly may contribute, in a suitable context, to the beauty of the whole” (421). Poppy exploits her appearance, belittles others, and, yet, despite her meanness, she thrives socially. Tucholke has held a mirror up to our society, and, if you don’t like the image, how are you going to change it? Poppy contributes to the beauty of Wink Poppy Midnight by exposing some of the ugliness we may find in ourselves and in our culture.
On the other hand, I find Wink far more terrifying than Poppy, who at least owns her cruelty. When I first began the novel, in an Instagram post, I characterized Wink as fanciful and innocent; two days later, I revoked my statement - “So... I was wrong when I thought Wink was innocent... the girl can kiss... and she’s potentially unhinged.” When Wink leans in to kiss Midnight for the first time, he says, “I would have guessed that Wink would kiss like a little girl, since she still kind of looked like one. Sweet and tender and shy... But her kisses were... hunger, and experience, and skill, and want” (Tucholke 66). Again, we have a female character, whose appearance doesn’t necessarily match her nature. Unlike Poppy, she doesn’t exist in a clear dichotomy of black and white, ugliness and beauty; instead, she swims and morphs through shades of gray.
As I mentioned in my post about Atonement, an overactive imagination can be dangerous, and Wink lives in fairy tales. In fact, she has cast Midnight as the hero and Poppy as the villain of her own; Wink repeatedly speaks of revenge and how Midnight must seek it before a happy ending can occur. Warning bells should be chiming. And yet, she does wear unicorn undies, which Poppy exposes in front a group of classmates, she picks strawberries, believes in ghosts and magic, and plays and reads stories to her siblings. She is petite and unassuming, and a lot of that is honest. Still. The deception.
When Wink and Midnight lure Poppy to the piano in the Roman Luck house, Wink’s eyes go “wild. Wild, wild. her lips [draw] tight, sucked in between her teeth... Her voice was high and clear, and [Midnight] could barely recognize Wink in it at all... and something in [her eyes] was... wrong... so wrong...” as she tells Poppy that the unforgivables are going to “slice [Poppy] open and lap up all [her] blood” (Tucholke 130-131). Once Wink and Midnight leave Poppy, Midnight admits that he believed Wink’s performance and was scared of her; Wink smiles and brushes it off to play-acting with her little brothers and sisters. However, this behavior is hardly sane or harmless. Wink “dwells in [her] sphinx-like mystery,” hiding an unpredictable darkness within her childlike presence (Eco, 354).
In a similar incident, after leaving Poppy in the haunted house, when Poppy’s friends believe she is dead, Wink offers to lead a seance at the Roman Luck house. As Wink begins trying to call Poppy, her head tilts back, “so far her hair touche[s] the floor, and her body [goes] rigid, it [snaps], like a rope pulled tight, like the rope that [they] used to tie up Poppy, snap, her wrists to the piano,” then she wakes, touches her hair, “look[s] at her arms, and her legs, smooth and graceful twists, eyebrows raised, lips pressed together in a pout,” and she “was cold and hard and sneering and Poppy, all Poppy,” and “it was horrifying. Horrifying” (Tucholke 208-210). Wink becomes Poppy; she channels her words and her movements. She interacts with each person intimately, sharing secrets only Poppy would know, terrifying each person. However, shortly after Wink’s transformation, the house catches fire. Midnight is the only one who doesn’t escape, and as everything becomes hazy from the smoke, he believes he catches a glimpse of the real Poppy, as he is pulled from the house. Once he recovers and makes his way back to the hayloft with Wink, he tells her that she was Poppy. After some silence, Wink asks him if he liked it, and she slides “her left leg over [him]” and “flip[s] her hair and arches[s] her back, just the once, just in the exact right way,” and Midnight knew; he “knew” (217-218). Wink’s entire seance was a charade. So, just as Poppy has similarities with Amy Dunne of Gone Girl, so does Wink - they’re both excellent actresses and off-kilter (Wink’s probably not a sociopath). Wink is a girl, who fears an early death, and has created an adventure to give her life meaning and importance, but in the process of realizing her fantasy, she has become twisted and unnatural. The dangers of imagination are at play; in order for Wink to accomplish her fairy tale, she has, with calculated precision, studied Poppy to an extent at which she can become her, which is unnerving to say the least.
However, it is at this point we learn that Wink and Poppy were friends - Wink learned Poppy’s mannerisms and psychology, while Poppy read Wink’s fairy tales, learned to disappear, and hoped Wink would give her Leaf. Poppy says, “I had to be the wolf, [Wink] said. It was [Wink’s] idea, her plan, the unicorn underwear and the kissing contest and the calling her names and the vile Roman Luck house and the making Midnight into a hero” (Tucholke 222). Wink orchestrated the entire story; for Wink, Poppy and Midnight just had their parts to play. Readers may attribute Poppy as the scandalous, manipulative one, and she is, but it is Wink who takes the cake. And yet, paradoxically, there is still an innocence in Wink, who misses the father who was less interested in his family than in himself, who fears leaving the world without leaving a mark, who still reads fairy tales and looks for her hero. Eco states, “we find ourselves faced with a multitude of contradictions” (423). This novel places those contradictions in front of us. We can be innocent and worldly, beautiful and ugly, unhinged and stable. So, who is the hero, the villain, the liar? They all are. And they all aren’t.
Lastly, Midnight. Midnight is sensitive, poetic, thoughtful, and handsome. He is overall a likable character, but he is weak and easily manipulated. He’s also much less interesting than Poppy and Wink, who present human paradoxes and complexities that Midnight just can’t. Midnight goes from loving and crying over Poppy and taking her abuse to attaching himself to Wink, even after she beguiles him into exacting revenge on Poppy. He is unable to stand up for himself; he bows to the women in life, and in the end, he runs away. Without a word. He doesn’t even have the confidence to say goodbye to Wink. But after all, this is a story about the girls; Midnight fulfilled his role and leaving was easy, “as easy as the sun setting, as easy as thunderstorms, and rivers rising, and boys leaving, and two girls reading together in a hayloft” (Tucholke 222).
Before the novel begins, Tucholke makes a dedication “to all the girls with their heads in the clouds” and follows it with an epigraph, quoting Joseph Campbell, that states, “you are the hero of your own story.” Despite the dangers of an overactive imagination, it is the one thing that can enable you to write your own story. Both Poppy and Wink possessed their narratives, and they had the brazenness to create their outcomes. Will you be a hero? What will your story be?
Eco, Umberto, ed. On Ugliness. New York: Rizzoli, 2007. Print.
Tucholke, April Genevieve. Wink Poppy Midnight. New York: Dial Books, 2016.