The Arboretum

by Matthew S. Burns

2014

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Nostalgic romance in twine, December 22, 2020

The Arboretum is an introspective romance story. It is basically a linear click-to-advance story/kinetic novel (I'm reluctant to call it hypertext even), with only one choice at the end that is more reflective than anything else. However, I appreciated the writing enough that it worked for me.

The story is told as a flashback from two perspectives: the protagonists are middle-class Asian-American high school students living in a college town in Texas, Derek and Lillian (upon re-reading, I don't know if Lillian is Asian-American, but Derek is). Both of them are introverted and socially isolated, and both of them are not really interested in the paths that are pushed onto them by their academically-oriented families. Despite being a little stereotypical, this depiction rang true to me. Eventually, Derek asks Lillian on a possible date, and she accepts. They hang out at a mall, and later go on a date to an arboretum, hence the title.

Most of the sentences in the story are introspective, providing Derek and Lillian's inner monologues. They both have their own anxieties, Derek about being a "real man" and living up to expectations, Lillian about her lack of a stable identity and her literary imagination. The two of them connect through acting out roles as anime and video game characters, of playing at and abandoning pretenses, of revealing tidbits of their "true selves" insofar that such a thing exists. Maybe it's just my personal biases, but I really liked the writing in these bits. It feels self-aware and lacks the self-importance of a lot of coming-of-age stuff.

The story ends with Derek and Lillian fast-forwarded 10 years. They've grown up and have real jobs now, never meeting each other since high school, and they both have memories of their past meeting, filtered through nostalgia. Will they meet again? That's the one choice at the end of the story, after which it immediately ends.

The author has done a lot of other work in games, including writing Eliza, one of my favorite visual novels. So I'm probably a little biased here. I would say that this story is similar to Lilium and other introspective and nostalgic twine stories.