I’m floored by how affected I am by listening to the newest installment of podcast brilliance (“S-Town“) by the folks who did “Serial.” I listened to “Serial” as I drove to and from a less than exciting semester of classes – I spent a lot of time driving that semester, I was somewhat unhappy about various things (not just work), and so I spent a lot of time attempting to soothe myself through the use of enormous amounts of junk food. “Serial” was a great distractor – I was less interested in stopping for donuts on the way home when I was able to listen to a new episode and see whether or not there was actually a pay phone in the entrance of that Best Buy or not.
But the compulsion I felt to find out more and more about the killing of Hae Min Lee is mere curiosity compared with the impossibility of putting down the tale of John B. McLemore and his incredibly precise rants, his brilliantly described disgust, and his kindness to others (or is it masochism? By the end, I wasn’t sure which it was, honestly). I know more about clocks now, I have been reminded of the young men I knew who sounded just like John (although stupid – always stupid, never brilliant like him), and I’m not sure what world I inhabit now. I am familiar with John’s world, in that I live in the South and I found John’s accent and cadence of speaking to be both insanely over the top but simultaneously familar, nostalgic and thus rather soothing. Even during his most epic rant, I felt I was on fairly familiar ground, but it was ground that felt familiar the way a dream feels familiar if you have it more than once – sort of ephemerally familiar if that makes any sense at all.
The gothic quality of this story is familiar to any of us who have grown up in the South, with a stereotypically southern upbringing. While I didn’t have an Uncle Jimmy to act as my hype man, we all have at least one slightly eccentric or somewhat damaged relative who can cause public outings to be a little awkward or embarrassing. I didn’t have an extended family myself, but I sure did adopt a family or two that wasn’t my own. And each of them had an Uncle Jimmy or a close facsimile thereto.
And truly, I felt about as Faulknerian as it is possible to feel (at least whilst also being sober) when I visited a family cemetery where numerous relatives were buried, as was my grandaddy’s right arm. Not all of him, mind, just his arm. I sent a picture of the headstone (armstone?) to my sister, who at the time happened to be visiting with one of our family’s adopted members – funny how that seems to be a thread among certain types of families. I wondered when Col. Sartoris was going to show up and beat me for being giddy in a graveyard.
S-Town is a live-action Flannery O’Connor tale, if she and Faulkner ever had a Frankensteinian love child. It’s haunting, and sad, and it’s so very human.