I love podcasts. I commute at least an hour and a half a day (!!! wtf am I doing with my life??) and listen to them all. The dulcet tones of Terri Gross, Marc Maron’s interrogations, my boys over at Food 4 Thot who are keeping me hip, What’s the Tee with RuPaul, Planet Lex: The Northwestern Pritzker School of Law podcast hosted by Dean Daniel B. Rodriguez. (Ok, that last one is for work, but girl, if you like how law intersects with current events, get you some!)
So obviously I was going to listen to S-Town, the new podcast from the producers of Serial and our hometown dreamboat, Ira Glass. (Who I heard might be getting divorced?? Can anyone confirm?)
And obviously I was going to do it in one day right after the full season was released.
Actually that part wasn’t obvious. But I had to drive a million miles to Peoria and back in one day and that’s the same amount of time as 7 episodes of S-Town so it all worked out.
So what the hell is S-Town, is it good, should you listen to it? Here’s the tee—
S-Town is essentially a gothic novel disguised as a podcast. Sort of. It takes place in rural Alabama and has a murder at its center. Sort of. What is definitely true is that there’s this guy, John B. McLemore, and he is ECCENTRIC AF and I LOVE HIM. He’s got this sprawling compound in the woods with a hedge maze that he built (!), a workshop where he’s a master antiquarian clock fixer, an aging mother with dementia in the back room, and he’s obsessed with climate change. He’s truly sort of crazy but also a genius and funny as hell, interesting, fascinating. And as everyone knows, I have a huge tolerance for crazy men (working on it!), so like, I’m in!
Anyway, John writes this producer at This American Life and is like, I’ve got a story for you, there’s been a secret murder in my shitty little Alabama town (hence s-town / shit-town) and come down here and check it out. I don’t want to give too much away, but with a guy like John and this tiny Southern town with all sorts of Alt-Right-Meets-Flannery O’Connor-type-shit going down, you know you’re in for a ride.
What S-Town does really really well is examining how different people can have completely different perceptions and experiences of the same events and the same people. That part is really fascinating and calls me back to like every short story I wrote during my MFA on THE INABILITY TO CONNECT. It’s hard to see where the real love is here as Brian Reed (our reporter / narrator) keeps turning the relationships over and over again. I love this. It’s also fascinating to see how limited we are in what we know or understand of ourselves, and what other people understand of us. And just like...how limited we are in general. This is the human condition at its best.
If you listened to Missing Richard Simmons, the second half of S-Town is going to sort of remind you of that, but like set in the land of Trump-supporters instead of Hollywood. That part I’m somewhat less enthused about, but I will say that Reed does a great job of revealing information slowly, information that then throws everything that came before it into relief. And that’s good writing.
Should you check out S-Town? Absolutely. If anything, it’s a really interesting insight into small-town America and what people need to get by. Reed's reporting is reasoned and deeply empathetic. He tells us that the residents of Shit-Town have this moto: FUCK IT. Like that life is going to be shitty and hard no matter what decision you make so they’re just like, FUCK IT. And if that doesn’t fill you with a desire to give everyone an equal start in the world, then I don’t know what will.