15 Aug. 2003
Lively and Enjoyable: 'Charmin' Cleary' by Edward Falco
Sarah Fairbrother

Charmin' Cleary by Edward Falco, http://eastgate.com/Charmin/2000.

When Professor Blat makes a move on one of his students, a star basketball player called Charmaine Cleary, she is so enraged she hits him in the face with a book. The blow leaves Blat in a coma. The hyperfiction Charmin' Cleary includes lexias about Charmaine and Blat as well as lexias that reveal the aftermath of their encounter and what minor characters thought of it.

The controversial theme of sexual harassment is treated as a complicated issue where nothing is black and white. Because this work is a hyperfiction, several different views, both male and female, can be presented without one perspective dominating over another. This encourages the reader to form their own point of view about Charmaine's actions and sexual harassment in general. As the reader moves through the lexias there is a sense of solving the mystery of what went on between Charmaine and Blat.

Despite its serious subject matter, the text is lively and enjoyable to read. The style of the text changes from lexia to lexia. Although some are written in first person and some in third, this is not jarring because hyperfiction is well suited to sudden shifts in perspective. The lexias written in first person from Charmaine's perspective are especially well done. They capture the lively way she speaks, and include run on sentences and fractured ideas. In contrast the lexias written from Blat's perspective have a more traditional literary style.

The story can be entered through three different links: 'Her Story', 'His Story' and 'The Other Guy's'. No matter which the reader chooses, they will find their way to lexias that deal with all the characters. Although there are many paths to take the story is generally not confusing because each lexia relates in some way to the central issue, the encounter between Charmaine and Blat. It is, however, sometimes difficult to determine which character is being described at times. The story also contains reading experiences unique to hyperfiction. It is possible to read what a minor character thinks about a conversation with their colleague in one lexia and later stumble upon their colleague's point of view on that same conversation in another, thus requiring the reader to fit the two together.

In this case, the reader also has control over when the story ends, not the writer. Because the story has no conclusion, however, the reader eventually starts revisiting lexias and must resort to random clicking in an attempt to find something new. It is a frustrating aspect of many hypertext works that sometimes the reader feels like they are going in circles. A lexia map or other indication of the work's structure would have been a helpful tool.

Charmin' Cleary has a simple presentation as blue text on white background. It does not use graphics, shockwave or java. This makes the pages quick to load, easy to read and, most importantly, the focus remains on the written word. Each paragraph is a link to a page related in some way to the contents of that paragraph. Clicking becomes unconscious and the story takes over with only the occasional spelling or grammatical error to spoil the effect.

The author, Edward Falco, says Charmin' Cleary is his "attempt to rein in hypertext" and write something similar to a traditional short story. He has succeeded in writing a multilinear story that is not confusing or alienating to the reader. And he has shown that hyperfiction does not need a high-tech presentation to work. Overall, I found this is a good example of what is possible within the genre and a rewarding read. I found the juxtaposition of multiple viewpoints on sexual harassment highlighted how people of different genders and backgrounds can see the same event in different ways.