26 April 2017

Open Letter to Brian Reed

Hello Brian,

I have just listened through to the last episode of S-Town, and am just now passing by Flint, Michigan to my right on Southwest Flight 336 (I promise I’m responsibly on airplane mode!).

I would first like to say, thank you for this podcast and all of your work that has gone into it.  You might just as well have called it Walden III (note: I am a former English major with an M.A. in Humanities and am in the death throes of a PhD program in Modern Studies, but fully admit that I’ve not read Walden II and Thoreau’s original is more years away from me than I care to admit, and though I think I recall it well, I likely am remembering it mythologically).  Nonetheless, the project, whether it’s really yours or John B. Macklemore’s, is a revelation for the humanist project – and I appreciate the time, and work, and life, and effort that went into it.

I started Chapter VII shortly after boarding this flight and I have to say that I was, for a moment, welling up all umbrage and outrage when I thought your final episode was going to posit and explore the idea that John (he is John to me too, now) killed himself because of a brain chemistry madness brought on by 35 year’s worth of poisoning himself.  By the end of the episode I was joyfully weeping – afraid that my flight attendants would think I was soused, because I ordered a second scotch and soda! – at the genius of John’s words describing a well-lived life, and at the heartbreak of the vast amount of ‘lost genius’ we have in this world (and perhaps, in particular, in this America), and, most of all, at the amount of life John was estimating we all spent at living (less the sleep, and the “jobs” {different from work, in capitalism}, and the administration {Kafka-esque waiting in late capitalism}).

Thank you for a well-made product – a fine podcast.  And thank you for your ability and your curiosity.  The time this took to put together and the distance between ‘episodes’ (not yours, but those that make up this whole story: the first email; the questionable call and follow-up trip; then the follow-up and follow-up…), coupled with the themes and ideas at play here, are epic.  You have created a modern epic.  Thank you.

I don’t write fan letters – or express appreciation of works to those I do not know – because I’m thoughtless and unkind and have an inflated sense of my own brain and generally think that I could have done – could have created a thing into being had I had the space and time and initiative.  (This is of course an arrogant and foolhardy notion, but it’s a part of the reason, I think, that I don’t express appreciation toward most works I enjoy).  This podcast – the editing and vision and content – is a masterwork of intellectual and empathic genius.  I am in your debt for making it.



Joel Seeger
Milwaukee, WI

16 April 2017

Playing it cool

I read back to back short stories about murder after finishing the playlist style novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. (It occurs to me that this is my second "dark double feature" on my Last Fives in recent weeks). The stories both approach the crime quite matter of factly, but the perpatrators in each story could not be more different in their respective approaches. I suppose it comes down to their relationship to the crime itself in some ways.

In "Lamb to the Slaughter", the 6-months-pregnant wife has just been told - something - by her husband. At best or worst she is told by her husband that he wants a divorce or that there is someone else for whom he is leaving her.  It's hard to say which of those is best or worse, "I'm leaving you because there's someone else" versus "I'm leaving you because you".

"Tell-Tale Heart" on the other hand features a murder which is incited by the gaze or perhaps just the eye of an old man and its effect on a madman. The murderer even refuses to kill the man he has decided to end for an entire week because the old man doesn't open his offending eye until the 8th night. 

If I had to summarize the theme of this particular double feature it would be to say that the stories are about guilt.  Poe's narrator clearly suffers the guilt of his crime, whereas the husband in Dahl's story could be said to 'suffer the guilt of his own crime', at the hands of his soon-to-be abandoned wife.   

*  *  *          

...(picking up the thread, some time later)

Twain's 'most likely to be assigned to a 5th Grade Reading class' of a short story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" is well worth the sitting, if you've not read it before.  It's a story about a foolish showman getting his comeuppance.  And the Fikry chapter that shares the Twain story's title is much the same.  Although not so public, the clown of this chapter also gets outed.

The whole novel works to rhyme the themes of each