THE DOOR IS OPEN
One of the first pieces of true “electronic literature” I ever read was “The Dionaea House,” an epistolary work taking place over three websites, with four stories all relating to the eponymous house. All one really needs to know about the House is that Dionaea is the genus name of the Venus flytrap, a famous carnivorous plant that lures insects in with sweet-smelling leaves before triggering the leaves to close, trapping the insect inside to be digested.
To say much more about the House and how it operates would spoil the story, so instead I will talk about the form of the story some more. The website I linked above is the “main” website, where the story begins its first chapter, “Correspondence with Mark Condry.” It plays out as a series of emails from Condry to the author (Eric), starting 4 September and ending on 21 September with a series of text messages. After Condry’s last text message on 21 September (withheld due to spoilers), there is a message from his wife Jen, then a copied newspaper article and a cryptic rant. The “next” button that the reader uses to navigate the chain of messages is replaced with a link to “updates.”
The updates are where this changes from a fluke, a brief epistolary work with several plot threads unresolved, into a more connected saga. This has later updates and links to the rest of the story, including the LiveJournal of 16-year-old Danielle Stephens, an AIM chatlog, Eric’s personal blog, and the LiveJournal of a Loreen Mathers. The story evolves through each of these entries, each coming from different people of different backgrounds, but all revolving around the same House.
The electronic medium creates a unique approach, one not often shown in the works we have encountered. In the Information Age, these stories feel disturbingly real, as many of us use one of these things or another, or know somebody who uses them. When one is reading a paperback epistolary novel, there is still a degree of detachment, as one understands that letters are not usually compiled into books. Here, the presentation of the material is much more immediate and realistic. Suspension of disbelief is much easier, and indeed resumption of disbelief is difficult, even only after reading the emails from Mark Condry.
What is also amazing about the story is that it sprawls, but never slackens or loses its focus. It tantalises the reader with potential answers, but nothing is certain. Just like in life.
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