Disappearing Rain

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Deena Larsen's Disappearing Rain is one of the major works of web-based digital narrative, written in 2000. It is studied in various universities worldwide and has been critically reviewed by scholars in the field of digital fiction. In essence, the plot revolves around the disappearance of Anna and her family’s attempts to piece together what has happened to her: "The only trace left of Anna, a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, is an open internet connection in the computer in her neatly furnished dorm room." The detective story unwinds, one link at a time, but even as readers explore Anna's disappearance, Larsen also orchestrates our own disappearance in the virtual reality of the Internet.

Larsen invites readers to join four generations of a Japanese-American family as they search for Anna and discover credit card conspiracies, ancient family truths, waterfalls that pour out of televisions, and the terrifying power of the web. The detective story unwinds, one link at a time, but even as readers explore Anna's disappearance, Larsen also orchestrates our own disappearance in the virtual reality of the internet. Hypertext links lead the reader to relevant url's on the web for actual companies and institutions (e.g., the Sheraton Hotel, or commonly encountered web pages (e.g., "Object not found"). As these real world links increasingly turn to errors, our search for Anna seems as elusive as the desire to track the Internet's ephemera.

The disjointed way in which the story is presented helps add to the feeling of confusion and loss felt by the family of Anna. In particular, the different links on the page help to represent the different and widely varying thoughts that are plaguing the members of Anna’s family. Anna’s family do not know what has happened to her and Amy (Anna’s sister), in particular, is trying to piece together the events leading up to Anna’s disappearance. This is comparable to the way in which the reader is also trying to piece together what is happening, both in the story and also during the decision making process, when the reader is pondering which direction or link to travel to next. In this way, the reader is made to empathize with Amy because the unfolding of the plot by the reader is similar to the way Amy must unravel what has happened to her sister. Amy’s choices at different intersections in the story, such as when she decides to read Anna’s letters from her computer, represent the varying choices the reader may make at any time during the story. Even though the reader has the power to navigate the full text however they please, they are not sure whether they are getting closer to Anna or further away.

Another significant feature of Disappearing Rain is its use of haikus. While some works of web-based digital fiction only have hyperlinks for the instrumental purposes of navigation, Disappearing Rain tells a part of the story through the hyperlinks. Larsen takes the haiku form and combines it with hyperlinks to create a new hybrid form of digital haiku. Haikus can be difficult to understand, especially in terms of what each individual word represents. But in Disappearing Rain, this aspect of conventional haikus is transcended as each word has a new layer of meaning accessible by clicking on the link. In this way the haiku also becomes part of a storytelling technique, as each segment links to an individual node.

(Source: Electronic Literature Directory / Patricia Tomaszek)

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Jill Walker Rettberg