Wednesday, October 14, 2015

IFCOMP'15: Birdland, Brendan Patrick Hennessy

A piece of work that both deserves a long article, and that somewhat foils it; one of those very, very well-made stories where neither the fiction nor the gamey parts admit of spacious analysis. In Twine.

I don't want to be making rash statements, but Brendan Patrick Hennessy is and is probably going to remain the best writer of prose in all my experience with this year's competition. Double bonus points for the fact that Birdland is almost entirely made out of dialogue. The subject-matter doesn't really incline oneself to think of something like this as an achievement in prose, but the color and character voice Hennessy injects into his, um, characters' voices (14-year-olds and girls, neither of which Hennessy is, to my knowledge) is a complete writerly success.

The story itself is Bridget's, a generally diffident, generally clumsy girl at summer-camp that starts having weird dreams about birds talking like mechanical engineers with sever head trauma, playing out different genre scenarios (first one is in the style of the Wild West, and they go on from there, science-fiction pointedly excluded). Hennessy's humor rarely missed with me, and the bird's stated purpose in these dreams is hilarious: they intend to learn about human behavior, yet in the "Pirate captain" section of Bridget's dreams the section ended with a beach party with the skeletons from Treasure Island, so the birds might have gleaned, if anything, some rich psychotherapy material and little else.

It's all light-hearted and charming (actually charming, not try-hard high-on-coke-desperate-joke-explaining charming) and later on crosses over simultaneously into the goofily bizarre and romantically engaging, a tough act, but Hennessy pulls it off.

Bridget could've easily been the classic empty-minded vessel for the reader, but both the goofy dreams and flavorful choices after each passage hint at an imagination and a character that made me feel not so much in Bridget's shoes and more like a school theater-director (or you know, a camp counselor) giving cues to an unruly actor. At first I thought it was an issue, but I let that go at some point.


Near the end, I found especially throat-lumpy the general drive away from humanity and understanding (in a, you know, goofy and charming way, no Indian black-and-white arthouse dramas here) and at the same time the under(or over?)current of romantic feeling coming to the fore, in these conditions specifically, with all the back and forth to the tune of "Give up!" on one side and "I'm with you!" on the other.

The ending also really got me, again with the lurking uncertainty if it's going to be a happy end, and where the separation of player and PC really helped - I, on one hand, was sure it's just a wrap-up, but Bridget, on the other, had some serious misgivings left about the new relationship she was in; and when they finally dispersed it was a happy end, and a relief, and a new warmth and appreciation for the main character(s).

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