READ: "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner
This week's READ recommendation comes by way of this week's LISTEN selection, "S-Town," a new podcast by the producers of "Serial" and "This American Life" that centers on the life of John B. McLemore, an antique clock restorer from Woodstock, Alabama (otherwise known as Shittown).
In chapter one of "S-Town," John B. McLemore gives Brian Reed, the host and co-producer of the podcast, some reading recommendations, including William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," Guy de Maupassant's "The Necklace," and Shirley Jackson's "The Renegade." After reading, Brian identifies "a unifying theme to all these stories, a creeping sense of foreboding, in these places that are allegedly home to polite society, an undercurrent of depravity."
"A Rose for Emily" certainly fits this description. Narrated by the gossipy townsfolk of the fictional Southern town of Jefferson, Mississippi, "A Rose for Emily" tells the story of Emily Grierson, an eccentric woman from a well-to-do family who becomes increasingly reclusive after her father's death. Over the course of the story, Faulkner breaks down the dichotomy between decorum and depravity, touching on themes of loneliness, unrequited love, isolation, violence and death.
"A Rose for Emily" artwork by Josie Carrabine.
WATCH: "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" directed by Robert Ellis Miller
If you've already blown through all seven chapters of "S-Town," consider tracking down this Southern Gothic movie. Adapted from Carson McCullers' novel by the same name, "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" features a protagonist who's very similar to John B. McLemore in many ways. John Singer, played by Alan Arkin in the film, is a deaf mute silverware engraver who attempts to help town outcasts while struggling with being an outcast himself. As a Southern Gothic film, "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" deals with subjects of marginalization, loneliness and violence, making it a great complement to both "A Rose for Emily" and "S-Town."
Rent "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" on YouTube. Unfortunately, this movie isn't currently available on any mainstream streaming service, but you can rent it on YouTube or Google Play for about $3.
LISTEN: "S-Town" hosted and co-produced by Brian Reed
I'm not the first, and I certainly won't be the last, to describe "S-Town" as novelistic. Listening to "S-Town" feels remarkably like reading a Southern Gothic novel. Like the literary genre, the podcast confronts topics of alienation, poverty, violence and, ever so briefly, race in the South. John B. McLemore is the eccentric outcast protagonist (like Emily Grierson or John Singer) and S-Town is the decaying Southern setting (like Jefferson or an unnamed town in the Deep South). And through a series of macabre events, "S-Town" examines the values of the American South much like a Faulkner or McCullers novel. Though "S-Town" is nonfiction, Brian Reed's masterful storytelling gives the podcast that engrossing, page-turning feel, which might explain how it has attained "podcasting blockbuster status."
Listen to "S-Town" here.