Doug Bonnema
English 573
Dr. Reed

Analysis of Lies, a Hypertext Fiction by Richard L. Pryll Jr


Lies, by Richard Pryll, is a text-only, "fixed content, single point of view story" and is accurately described by the WEB HYPERFICTION READING LIST as "deceptively simple." The starting page is brief, fixed, and, like each subsequent link, allows the reader only two choices: "Truth" or "Lies." Pryll has consciously crafted each link to be short enough such that the reader does not need to scroll, which as he suggests partially compensates for the inability to curl up with a good PowerMac with the instant gratification of point and click. Each reading takes less than ten minutes and within three or four readings, one begins to get the sense of the richness of possible interpretations and perspectives. Because it is easy to navigate to one of the story's ends quickly and because of the simplicity of choices, it is easy to form a first impression of "Lies" as a fun, but insubstantial experience in HyperFiction. Even the premise, a man and a woman meeting and enduring a relationship complicated by infidelity, lies, and half-truths is somewhat sophomoric; still, "Lies" works very well as a quick introduction to the different possibilities available through hypertext.

Pryll makes use of devices such as using pronouns instead of proper nouns and re-defining words and phrases which effectively illustrate many of the possibilities available in Hypertext fiction that are impossible, or at least prohibitively difficult in traditional, print fiction. Though the constituent links of "Lies" are fixed -- there are a number of possible endings -- following different choices creates dramatically different perceptions for the reader; as Pryll states and Lies demonstrates, "HyperFiction provides an excellent means of expressing stories that have many levels, plots within plots, motives within motives."

Like Ana Castillo's hypertext-like novel, The Mixquiahuala Letters, the path one chooses through "Lies" has a large impact on how one perceives characters, events, and the story itself. Pryll claims one advantage of the hypertext form over a traditional novel is that hypertext allows the author to "control the reader's natural curiosity" and prevents the reader from seeing the overall structure of the work. In other words, where a reader could subvert Castillo's suggested readings by flipping through the pages, hypertext makes it more difficult for readers to read things they "are not supposed to be reading" (Interview). Since hypertext arguably blurs the distinction between reader and writer, another way of looking at Pryll's point is that rather than simply an exercise of power and manipulation on the part of the author, the advantage Pryll describes acts more as an alternative to following an author's prerogative through a traditional text; the fact that readers are given choices which affect the outcome of the story calls into question traditional, linear reading conventions. As many theorists have pointed out, one distinction between hypertext fiction and traditional fiction is that reading hypertext is a much more active process -- rather than being part of a guided tour it is much more akin to exploring a city on your own: more risks, more work, but often more rewarding. Whether this freedom is somewhat illusory will depend largely upon what if any hypertext reading and writing conventions emerge.

However, Pryll by playing with readers' preconceptions about truth and lies creates a piece of hypertext fiction which exhibits many of the radical potentials George P. Landow discusses in Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory & Technology. Landow states that hypertext

has radical effects upon our experience of author, text, and work, redefining each. Its effects are so basic, so radical, that it reveals that many of our most cherished, most commonplace, ideas and attitudes toward literature and literary production turn out to be the result of that particular form of information technology [the printed book] and technology of cultural memory that has provided the setting for them. . . . Hypertext, in other words, historicizes many of our most commonplace assumptions. 33-4
Pryll clearly encourages the reader to read the "Lies" links with the epigram on the title page, "you will never truly understand a person until you understand her lies," and on the starting page "Lies tell you more about a person than the truth does. Lies tell you what a person wants to be, rather than what they are. Lies are dreams,[sic] lies are fantasy. Who wants to live the truth, when you can live a lie." Besides playing with truth and lies, if one chooses the "Lies" link after four or five clicks into the story, Pryll introduces double meanings or a "code" for several key words and phrases which force the reader to seriously question (for example: "dancing" means "lying"; "enjoying rum and cokes" means "enjoy[ing] telling each other about your lies and crying over it"; "summer lover" is the names they call their journals; "cheating" means writing in their journals rather than writing letters to one another"; "sleeping with summer lover" means "fantasizing about sex in our journals"). The above techniques, for example offering the code under the "Lies" link, causes for the reader a zigging and zagging between truth and lies, between previous readings of the story and the current one, and between reader and author, such that previous preconceptions and reading conventions for traditional literature are rapidly and radically challenged. These techniques, combined with both the urge and Pryll's suggestion to keep rereading "Lies" (each "ending" closes with a link to "go back to the beginning" help the reader create multiple perspectives all of which work to problematize familiar, -- and what we may have assumed natural -- habits of approaching texts. For these reasons, "Lies" would be an ideal introduction for students to the new and multi-layered possibilities attainable through hypertext fiction.

Works cited

Landow, George P. Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory & Technology.

Pryll, Richard L. Lies.