Is there life in this text?
Twilight is a composite of two stories which move "east toward life (though in the past) and west toward death (though in the future)", as Joyce writes in his introductory lexia. The first one tells about the narrator, Hugh, who is helping his friend Magda to find a notorious Twilight Doctor (not unlike Dr. Kevorkian) to end her cancerous suffering. Another story, set some ten years before the other, describes how Hugh kidnapped his son from his estranged wife and drove with him to their summer cottage on Pleasant Lake. In addition there are fragments about the death of Hugh's parents, metatextual comments on the nature of hypertext fiction, quotations from Umberto Eco and other authors, short pieces on music (especially on Glenn Gould) and literature, etc. And a lot of puns: "love, Hugh and Obie - love you and obey."
The main problem for the author of hyperfiction is to allow as much interactivity as possible while at the same time securing some sort of cohesiveness for the story line. In Twilight, Joyce has employed two strategies for this aim. First, he offers a general overview of the story structure in the first lexia ("Our story so far"); and secondly, he occasionally uses extended lexias. Both strategies work, "Our story so far" provides a framework without which the reader would be totally lost, and longer lexias allow the reader to get immersed in the story world.
Twilight is, using Joyce's own term, an exploratory hypertext. It has the two main stories, which can be read in several ways, but the final outcome of different readings won't differ essentially from each other. Comparing to Afternoon, the potential to construct significantly different wholes is minimal. With an exploratory text, the question is whether the textual environment is inspiring enough to make the reader actively interact with it or not. Readers are initially invited to explore by an excess of materials: photographs, sound effects (crickets chirping, boat whistle, piano playing, humming) and a video clip keep the reader alert for a while. But after all, it is the text that counts.
"This text is full of death" says the narrator repeatedly. There is the longed for death of Magda, the deaths of the narrator's parents, and also the death of the narrator/ author's artist friend (Anne Johnstone). It is the death strand of Twilight which gets much more weight, and more successful treatment than the equilibrating life strand.
This is especially true in the contemplation of the parents' death (mother's with peace and optimism, father's with total emptiness) - the passages where Twilight achieves its most elegiac moment. But then, somehow the narrator-assisted suicide attempt gets too hastily done with - basically it is one long lexia.
Also the irony and interwoven quality of all events is almost unused. For example, Hugh and Magda miss the Twilight doctor by only a few days (and pass his boat traveling in the opposite direction). But nothing is made of this irony. This is especially disappointing since this kind of "crossing of destinies" seems a powerful device in hyperfiction.
There is also the oppositional part, "the arc towards life." The son, Obie, obviously represents life here (perhaps you could see music also as a life-giving force). Assumedly Hugh runs with his son because he's estranged from his wife. At the same time, he leaves his daughter behind! In addition, the description of the son, though full of sharp notices about his little deeds, is oddly detached - I would even say estranged itself. So what can we make of it? The whole idea of father and son making their "flight to Canada," to wilderness, to nature, to real life devoid of women, is so preposterous, that one cannot but read it in a highly ironical, even cynical mode. Compared to the earnestness of the death sections, the sections on life just won't settle as a counterpart. "I'm not a postmodernist, I try to understand death," writes Joyce in Twilight, and death indeed is the main concern here.
For a moment, there is a feeling of an adventure story: Hugh fears that the police are after him and he imagines the escape route he must take. This is one of the passages where the hypertextual structure of alternative storylines works well - there is also the second take: the man knocking on the door is not the police, but a neighbor, a Polish emigrant and Magda's husband. In a way this incident serves as the starting point for the events following ten years later. Some small, even irrational deeds may determine one's future life, and this is nicely made concrete here.
Joyce is a brilliant writer, his language is enjoyable throughout his writings, and even the stories are interesting, and usually touching. The main problem with Twilight is that somehow it just doesn't manage to take advantage of the potentialities of its hypertextual structure-reading the text won't actually add much to the initial exposition, the whole won't be larger than the sum of the parts. While in Afternoon the denial of the main character to find out, once and for all, the actual state of affairs served as the thriving motivation for the branching story structure, in Twilight the logic of memory alone doesn't do the trick. The crossing points of different storylines are usually obvious and explicit, but there isn't that metatextual "pattern with connects" to be find behind the textual surface.
The blurring of the temporal distinctions is a device which Joyce masters. If one wants to find some kind of inner motivation for the textual structure, it seems to be the logic of memory, the way memory connects temporally distinct events to tightly connected patterns. If the 'narrative present' is a concept very difficult to define in general, in Twilight it is even harder. There are lots of exact dates in the text serving as temporal anchors thus helping to orient readers, but it is just the short moments of timelessness, trips outside time, which best concretize the hypertextual potentialities in Twilight.