Review: S-Town by Brian Reed


Words || Jodie Ramodien

Riding the wave of True crime podcasts back in 2017 was S-town, the story of John B. McLemore, an antiquarian horologist who contacts investigative journalist Brian Reed in the hopes of solving a murder mystery in his hometown of Woodstock, Alabama.

“Something’s happened,” gripes John in his deeply Southern accent, “Something has absolutely happened in this town. There’s just too much little crap for something not to have happened, and I’ve about had enough of Shittown and the things that goes on.”

This story begins way back in 2012 when John first contacted Brian via an email with the subject line, “John B. McLemore lives in SHITTOWN, Alabama.” With the lure of a promising case, a cover-up, and a corrupt county said by John to be one of the “child-molester capitals of the state,” Brian sets off.

With a premise like this you’d think the story would unfold in the way of most whodunnits: you’ve got your outsider detective in the form of Brian, the catalyst that is John, and a cast of colourful characters including Tyler Goodson, Kabrahm Burt, and Boozer Downs — yes that is his real name. Yet what you get is the poignant story of John, a fiercely intelligent and caring man stuck in a town, and a world, he finds unbearably unjust. His laundry list of global concerns are endless: “I spend most spare time now either studying energy or climate change, and it’s not looking good. So yes, sometimes it’s hard for me to get focused back on something when the whole goddamned Arctic summer sea ice is going to be gone by 2017. And we’re fixing to have heat waves in Siberia this year, and sometimes I feel like a total idiot because I’m worried about a goddamn crackhead out here in fucking Shittown, Alabama.” John takes in the weight of the world’s problems and asks, “it’s just a clusterfuck of sorrow, isn’t it?”

Through the erudite cadence of Brian’s general American accent we get revelatory observations into the life of this compelling and at times enigmatic man. On the surface he comes across as an eccentric genius, casually rattling off the latin names of plant species and nonchalantly mentioning his self-built labyrinth, a compilation of concentric circles of hedges that can be seen from the aerial view of Google Maps — look up “John B. McLemore’s maze.” On a deeper level we get to see the dissatisfaction he experiences, the life he was meant to live but didn’t because he was unable to mentally break free from Woodstock. Decades worth of accumulating resentment building over this fact.

This podcast, released through seven hour-long ‘Chapter’ installments, gives a masterful level of insight into the human psyche, loss, depression, longing, and regret. After listening to it I felt changed, it’s an audio-experience I would highly recommend.