S-Town the podcast captivated me. I finished it in the first 36 hours. In transit between work stuff, kids’ stuff, and home stuff, I couldn’t put down my headphones. S-Town is lovely and loving storytelling. Horology plays a central role in the story, and I’m reminded that my short essay about my mother’s preoccupation with clocks appears in the beautiful Copper Nickel this spring. Nonfiction Editor Joanna Luloff commented on how much story was “packed into 3 pages,” which made me feel good and grateful my piece found this home. My mother’s relationship with time was as complex as the lunar-phase longcase I inherited when she died. On the one hand, my mother, sisters, and I packed so much into our bedrooms, basement, into our hours after my father died. On the other hand, our dozens of clocks ticked painfully on time, rooting us quietly in place, when a quickening would have been welcome. Time seemed, with sadness, to circle back. Copper Nickel was founded in part by Jake Adam York, whose life as a poet and person will be celebrated for a long time, and who died too early. York was 40 when he died suddenly, having lived just 31 days longer than my father had lived before he too died suddenly. After receiving my copy of Copper Nickel, I got to reading up on the poet who started this gorgeous journal, and learned he spent most of his childhood in Alabama, a couple counties from Bibb, the home of the horologist at the center of S-Town.
What a lovely journal, I must check it out. But the essay is not available online?
Pat and I also devoured S-Town. We both fell in love with John B in that first telephone conversation early in the first episode–by the time we got to the moment when he asks the reporter to hold on so he can take a Tums, then bitches about the flavor, we both cracked up and laughed for a couple of minutes. Pat and I both knew people, growing up and in our working life, very much like John B, excepting his obvious genius. That cynical, profane, joking, extremely colorful bitching–everyone in the south eventually comes across two or three people just like this. The show made us miss some of the characters we have known and the flavor of conversation in the south. The accents at times made us pine. And we both cried when the reporter got the call about his suicide. What a fucking waste. I wish he’d understood the world wanted more of him.
Did you feel the storytelling was flawless, though? I was so thrown when we started episode 6 that I still wonder if we missed a chunk at the end of 5 somehow. The story appeared to be building to something else entirely, a revelation of local corruption and the theft of John B’s assets, yet that line was dropped completely and we don’t hear again about what’s happening with his estate until well into the final episode. This hurt what I had considered a perfect display of storytelling up to that point. Still, we very much enjoyed it, including those final 2 episodes. And the ending was clean heartbreak.
I guess I’ve been looking for an opportunity to share my thoughts about the podcast…!
Congrats on your latest success. Applause, applause.
Not online … in print alone! How lovely to think of you and Pat connecting so deeply through the story to your roots. I didn’t think too much about the storytelling structure while listening. I did read that Brian Reed and Julie Snyder created a large, complicated storyboarding wall to sort it all out. What I take from it is that immersion nonfiction like this is such a puzzle. So many threads to introduce, explore, and possibly wrap up (or not). Not to say other storytelling forms aren’t puzzling. With immersion, though, you can’t do anything in advance. You dive in, collect and record and analyze, and then you get that phone call that changes the whole story. It’s like the storytellers are as perplexed as we are when lines are dropped and revelations don’t come. I’m sure I’ll listen again at some point and consider the structure more carefully!
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To me the shift in narrative from the 5th to the 6th episode is so stark, so unbridged, that I still wonder if Pat and I missed something. I’d go back and check but I’m still mourning John B. and can’t bear to hear more of the program again so soon. I understand what you’re saying about the difficulties of being led by events, but they had all the material and could shape it however they wanted. If we DIDN’T miss anything, I have to wonder why they included so much material suggesting the narrative was headed hard in a direction that then just got dropped. Maybe I’ll do some Googling and see if there are reviews the talk about the storyline. Fun exchange!
Hmm… I wonder! I found a lot of shifts, so I can’t recall that one being more stark than the others. I’ll check on it too when I have the time and stamina to go back in. I did read this: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/30/arts/true-crime-podcast-s-town-serial.html
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