The beautiful numbing effect of ‘S-Town’

I have spent the week binge listening to S-Town and then trying to recover from the emotional rollercoaster
I just endured. Over the course of one episode, I experienced blood-boiling anger, on-the-verge-of-tears sadness, and amused laughter. The immense range of emotions over such a short period of time has a numbing effect–a hand-to-my-mouth stunned effect.

S-Town, a production of Serial and This American Life, is hosted by Brian
Reed; he began reporting on the story after receiving an email from John B.
McLemore three years ago. John detests Woodstock, Alabama. He could talk for hours about the miseries of the small town, so he finally decides to do something about it by contacting Brian Reed.

Each episode begins with the familiar introduction from Sarah Koenig, known well to listeners of Serial, naming the sponsor of the episode and the episode name. S-Town is organized like a captivating novel; Reed develops one point-of-view so thoroughly your entire opinion of the story is turned on its head when he begins to present the opposite perspective. A whirlwind of accusations come flying from all directions leaving you in an abyss of questions wondering what to believe.

The music of S-Town emphasizes and develops the story by adding to the overall tone. In Chapter 5, there is a brilliant crescendo leading to John angrily venting to Brian. Each chapter ends with “Rose for Emily” by The Zombies, a pretty song that tells a sad story. John’s life is full of pretty things, colorful flowers and intricate antique clocks, but he tells a sad tale of life in Woodstock, Alabama.

The beginning of S-Town leads you to believe you are about to uncover a murder mystery but quickly turns into the aftermath of losing a loved one. By the final chapters, the complexities of the man you thought you had figured out after the first episode are revealed. His deep Southern cadence juxtaposed the advanced subjects he enjoyed discussing, he relished denouncing the failures of modern society, and he took care of the things he loved.

The final minutes of S-Town end the podcast at the beginning, bringing the story full circle. Full circle endings can be cheesy; however, Brian was able to preserve the story and tone, leaving the listener with a contented satisfaction (even though there are still numerous unanswered questions).

Ten out of ten I would recommend listening to S-Town. Go for a walk, or go for a drive. Just give Brian Reed your full attention for an hour and  listen to this delightfully numbing masterpiece.


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