The first page of Brooklyn of Dreams, summarizes some of the elements of the individual stories. Its purpose is to allow you to choose a path through the stories. You might even close your eyes, move your mouse around, and choose randomly. By following the links within the first story that you read, you will find the other three, probably not in chronological order. Thus, each reader will have a different experience than those who read the stories in a different order.
Web-based fiction offers the opportunity for effects that would not be possible between the pages of a book. Though these stories could if need be stand alone, or be read in order in a book, Brooklyn of Dreams would be flattened if reduced to print--the stories would be forced to follow a linear flow. On paper, Brooklyn of Dreams would be a waterfall, not a wheel.
The prior hyperfiction, Kazoo Concerto, was a constellation of stories and connecting material that similarly allowed the reader to explore the "story space" in any direction. Kazoo Concerto was essentially formless, like the Web itself. Brooklyn of Dreams is an attempt to create something smaller and more orderly. Each of the stories in Kazoo Concerto links only to a subset of the entire constellation, and the reader must explore the entire space by trial and error, checking every link in every story. Each story in Brooklyn of Dreams links to all three of the others, and Kazoo's connective fragments are absent.
The stories are an application of the ideas in William Butler Yeats' poem, He Bids His Beloved Be At Peace, to life in Brooklyn, New York. Each of the stories draws its title from a line of that poem:
O vanity of Sleep, Hope, Dream, endless Desire,
The Horses of Disaster plunge in the heavy clay...
I have pieced out the entire poem of twelve lines throughout the top page and the four stories. The first two lines are on the top page. Each story begins with one of the next four lines, which relate the four vanities--sleep, hope, dream, and desire-- to a compass direction. The last story in chronological order, Desire, contains the last seven lines of the poem. It begins, as the others do, with one of the four directions ("The South is pouring down roses of crimson fire"). In a cab on his way to the doctor, Robin Bauer remembers the next two lines, quoted above, starting "O vanity..." The last four lines of the poem are given as a postscript to the story.
Brooklyn of Dreams began as an idea for a filmscript which would transpose four well-known short stories to Brooklyn: Marquez's Eyes of a Blue Dog, Hemingway's A Day's Wait, Bierce's An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, and Borges' The South. I decided to write a hyperfiction instead, which would communicate the same ideas without using the plots of the stories. Lina in the story Dream evokes the heroine of Eyes of a Blue Dog. Elements of A Day's Wait are picked up in Sleep and Desire. Brian Hanranhan in Hope is the character I conceived for the "Brooklynization" of An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge. I had thought to end the filmscript with The South because it is about mortality. The role South would have played in the script is fulfilled instead by the story Desire. Borges associates the South with death, Yeats relates it to desire, and the story Desire deals with both. Kazoo Concerto similarly concluded its timeline with a story about death.
Dream and Desire also attempt to evoke James Joyce's The Dead, one of the most beautiful stories ever written.
Of the common elements in the four stories, the use of dreams requires no explanation. The four dreams which are the cornerstones of the stories are all real, from the appropriate decades of my life. Sweets--jelly candy and marzipan in particular--are integral to memories of my childhood and are associated with particular holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Hanukah. Similarly, I associate periods in my life with the games I played during them. (Since starting The Ethical Spectacle in January 1995, I have not had time to play any games. In other words, the Spectacle itself is the game for this period of my life.) I don't know if the use of strangers in every story is a successful effect, but the idea was to have an intervenor, like a ghost in Shakespeare, comment on or advance the action in every story. The reader will notice that all of the strangers are black people. I had hoped to have a black character in Brooklyn of Dreams, just as other characters are Jewish, Italian and Irish, but Brooklyn when I was growing up was a segregated society (and still is). Creating a black friend in the stories, when I had none as a child and a young man, would not have been an honest action. My respectful use of black people as the all-knowing strangers in the four stories is an acknowledgement that we lived in Brooklyn together for decades, that I wanted to put you in the story, but that I don't know enough about you. I take responsibility for this failure.
Though the four stories are largely drawn from my memories and experiences, no character is directly based on a real person except the child Ricky in Sleep. The story is made up (with one exception, the playground scene) of actual experiences, which did not, however, all take place on a single day.
Sleep was written immediately after seeing David Mamet's play The Old Neighborhood, which I thoroughly disliked. At one point, a woman who has been talking incessantly about how terrible her parents were, finally gives a dramatic illustration: one Christmas she wanted skiis, but received a leather briefcase instead. Without diminishing the intensity of such disappointments-- we all have had them--Mamet's work seemed unwittingly self-parodic in a world in which other children are being beaten or shot. In general, the gravest danger of autobiography, especially tales of one's childhood, is self-pity. A good way to avoid this is by mixing up the elements of one's own life and assigning them to different characters, none of whom resembles the author too closely. Sleep in part is a response to Mamet: Ricky has an apparently idyllic life; at no point in the story is he yelled at or abused. Yet he ends up weeping inconsolably without knowing why. If you want to know the reason, which is hinted at so slightly in the story it is probably uninterpretable: Ricky is crying about the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
Too much explanation in a story diminishes it. I once heard an excellent radio play based on Melville's Bartleby; then, at the end, the adaptation threw the whole thing away, by explaining that Bartleby's young daughter had died. The scrivener was much more interesting when we did not know why he was so depressed. One advantage of hyperfiction is that the author, in creating it, can jump from point to point, eliding some of the connections. Modern or "postmodern" fiction on paper attempts the same thing in other ways, through use of a subjective voice, surrealism, magical realism, or similar effects. Any printed fiction still struggles with the linear bias that fiction on paper should begin at point A and proceed to point B.
Hope, is sui generis. Little reference is made to his parents;
we do not know if they loved him or beat him, and it does not
matter. Brian is a "fine young animal", and the story
illustrates Yeat's statement in "Paudeen" that
There cannot be, confusion of our sound forgot,
A single soul that lacks a sweet crystalline cry.
Brian is a composite of several people I hung out with around 1970 and 1971, some of whom have since died from drug overdoses. His fate is that of a young man, Brian Dowdell, who tried to stop one man from shooting another in a Brooklyn diner in 1972.
Lina's life as related in Dream, is drawn from several women I knew, including a high school friend who had a baby before she was nineteen. I do not know if I have done a good enough job portraying Lina, but there are several things I admire about her: her passion, the ferocity of her loyalty even to the boundary of the irrational, and her honesty.
The timeline between each of the stories is curved rather than straight; each story reveals events that do not follow directly from the story before, and is intended to disappoint any expectations the prior story raised. Dream revealed that Lina did not save Brian. In Desire, Lina has married not Ricky, who courted her in the playground in Dream, but his younger brother Robin, whom we have not seen since he was five years old in Sleep.
Of the men in the stories, Robby Bauer is, naturally, my favorite, though he is much less like me than Ricky is. Robby is a man without much ego, one with low expectations who loves easily and is happy if loved. He is the man I would like to be.
Apropos of the death of Dr. Samuel Bauer as related in Desire, my father, Dr. Stanley Wallace, died of lymphoma in 1989, and I have dreamed of him once or twice every year since.
In 1987, I ruptured a blood vessel in my eye and was treated with laser surgery as Robby Bauer is in the story.
I am sure I have said entirely too much about the workings of Brooklyn of Dreams. I hope you had read it before reading this, and that this note has not in any way diminished the stories for you.