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Fiction

December 06, 1987|Harry Baldwin

WINTER'S TALES: STORIES AND OBSERVATIONS FOR THE UNUSUAL by Jonathan Winters (Random House: $13.95; 219 pp.).

If the strangely skewed characterizations of Jonathan Winters once massaged your funny bone, these 60 short-short stories (in which he impersonates kids, Indians, the animal kingdom, to mention a few) might remind you of his TV sketch, "Jonathan's Attic," when a prop provoked a playlet in the Winters mode. But props for performing aren't necessarily props for writing; even Lily Tomlin has her Jane Wagner.

The best of these stories are satirical, refreshingly cruel, provocative, as in "The Babysitter and Why They're Weird or Turn Weird"; behind the oddity there's controlled writing that builds for comic effect. But more often, what begins funny-fey falls flat, or waxes sentimental/polemical, or uses O. Henryish reversals; they're like the talented jottings of that odd bird in your creative writing class who hated rewriting.

However, if you can approach these anecdotes as the child Winters urges you to be, they're conversationally easy to leaf through, like much of today's celebrity writing. It might be more effective (and trendier) for Random House to release this book as a cassette or a video, then we could hear Winters' genius for mimicry, see the mad twinkle in his eye, and not think of Robert Benchley.

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