I listened to lots of Pseudopod this week because the nearest Ikea is a four-hour roundtrip, but I was dying to go, so, podcast time. Nine reviews for week 41:

Fiction

Abandon All Flesh written by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, read by Pamila Payne (Pseudopod)

August 2015 (originally August 2013); 28 minutes. Horrific in so many ways. Initially Pamila Payne’s breathy narration threw me, but as the story went on, I found that Payne’s narration fit the content perfectly and enhanced the narrator’s detached, clinical observations as well as the narrator’s dissociative moments. The story itself was fascinating and at times difficult to listen to. Just as Jack the Ripper preyed on women in the margins, so too does David prey on Julia, who doesn’t say no to his actions, nor does she say yes. Although Julia doesn’t have a strong reaction in the narrative, and Payne’s narration remains aloof, I found myself horrified for Julia and balking at the everydayness of rape culture embodied in David. The images of layers and sacrifice add an extra level to the story that underscores Julia’s own fascination with Jack the Ripper as well as positions Julia within a longer history. The ending subverts Julia’s sacrifice narrative, but at the same time it still felt eerie, unsettling. Brilliant episode.

The Babadook written and directed by Jennifer Kent (Causeway Films)

January 2014; 94 minutes. Also available on Netflix. Recommended by Kat. The Babadook is very much the epitome of a horror survival narrative. But as much as it is about Amelia defending herself against an unseen monster, it’s also about grief and trauma and the monstrous form that those experiences take. Amelia’s frustration and terror come through so vividly, and it’s heartbreaking to see how much Sam’s anxiety stems from Amelia’s grief. The cinematography is surreal and eerie at times, with whole scenes acting like tricks of the light that also read as dissociation to me. Although there is definitely something supernatural about the Babadook, like Alyssa Wong’s stories, the movie is grounded in our reality. So much of the story spoke to my experiences, even if my specific griefs and traumas were different. The ending felt empowering, and the note of melancholy that ran through the last moments underscored the lasting impact of the Babadook on Amelia and Sam.

Creature Carnival by Beats Antique (Newport Music Hall)

October 2015; 120 minutes. The Beats Antique concert I went to wasn’t just a music performance, but also a dance performance, an interactive experience, a theater experience, and entirely speculative in the construction of its mythos. At parts carnival vaudeville horror and at parts ethereal fantasy, Creature Carnival spans many settings and moods, each of which tell a story to various degrees of abstraction. The many musical and aesthetic influences on Beats Antique’s music and performance felt more like an organic cultural exchange than something appropriative. Creature Carnival was a fun and immersive experience, and, while I didn’t mind going by myself, I wish some of my friends could’ve gone with me to see how fantastic the show was too.

Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes written by Thomas Ligotti, read by Rish Outfield (Pseudopod)

April 2015 (originally 1982); 32 minutes. The story itself is great, but what really made the podcast was Rish Outfield’s performance. And here I definitely mean “performance” in a theatrical sense—the melody of Outfield’s voice imbues the magician narrator and the story with life in a way that printed text alone can’t fully convey. Perfect pacing, wonderful grandiosity; I found myself hypnotized and mesmerized alongside the audience watching the magician’s performance. The ending was wonderfully sinister.

Just Outside Our Windows, Deep Inside Our Walls written by Brian Hodge, read by Brian Lieberman (Pseudopod)

August 2012; 40 min 30 sec. Originally published April 2010. Recommended by Kat as part of her 31 Days of Horror. I don’t typically go for stories with slow builds, but this one fed me enough morsels that I remained intrigued and kept listening. Hodge’s sense of timing is fantastic; each twist came at a perfect moment, and the narrator’s ingenuity surprised me at every turn. The chemistry between the narrator and Ronnie is so natural, and at the same time there’s nothing sexual or even romantic about their relationship, which is so refreshing to see, especially in a story about a boy and a girl. I didn’t foresee the ending at all—something about it is so powerful and condenses all the melancholy echoing through the story into a moment of quiet despair. Although I normally prefer my narration with a lot of prosodic variety, Brian Lieberman’s narration suits the mood of the story, and Lieberman did a great job of adding character to Ronnie’s voice.

Laal Aandhi written by Usman T. Malik, read by Kaushik Narasimhan (Pseudopod)

July 2015 (originally October 2014); 49 minutes. Wow. I’m constantly impressed by how Pseudopod matches narrators with stories to create a rich and vivid experience. Narasimhan’s narration is fantastic, and the whispers from the gunny sack were delightfully sinister and eerie. I found myself struck not only by the monstrous inhabitants of Bad Bricks, but also by the laal aandhi, ever whirling in the background while the boys do their reading at Bad Bricks and then find themselves struggling to escape a living nightmare. Even with the ugly, grotesque descriptions of what they saw—noxious, lice-infested hair, ugh!—what haunted me long after I finished listening was the laal aandhi itself, the storm, which transformed to encompass something greater. I can’t help but feel the trauma that blankets the ending and see the laal aandhi as a physical manifestation of Lahore’s pain, and of a broader, communal trauma. Beautiful work.

The New Arrival written by Miranda Suri, read by Rock Manor (Pseudopod)

August 2015 (originally November 2010); 25 minutes. As I’m writing up reviews for all these Pseudopod episodes, I think about how I didn’t consider myself a horror fan until very recently. I don’t like gory movies or jump scares, after all. But with Kat‘s help, I discovered that horror is much broader than slasher movies and tricks to startle people. The New Arrival is a perfect example of a story that has no blood, not even anything grotesque, and in fact is pretty mundane and relies on the audience’s dawning realization rather than a moment of terror. From the get-go the listener has a sense that something is off. Manor’s narration, which sounds like it’s pitched higher and softer than Manor’s regular speaking voice, also unsettles—there’s a sense that Manor tries to sound like a young boy but never fully gets there, which actually suits the story perfectly. I found myself growing more and more alarmed as Jack’s sibling jealousy mounted to a venomous anger, but I didn’t expect the way he acted on his jealousy. And the ending, when Jack’s older brother realizes what’s happened and realizes that Jack is vulnerable, is terrifying by virtue of setting up a horrific logical conclusion that Suri never shows us. We have to fill in the details, and in the back of my mind I wonder about their parents’ confusion and heartbreak. I love horror that scares me through what’s not said, and The New Arrival does that perfectly.

Raw Appetite written by Christa Pagliei, read by Brian Rollins (Pseudopod)

April 2015 (originally August 2014); 36 minutes. I have such a soft spot for chef and restaurant stories, so of course I had to listen to Raw Appetite, and I was not disappointed. Brian Rollins brought so much flavor to the characters—I took a peek at the original text of Raw Appetite, and it seems Pagliei didn’t write in a French accent for Chef Catalan, but the accent and gruff voice Rollins added really brought out the roughness of Chef’s character. In contrast, the narrator’s voice is much perkier, matching the eagerness and idealism of the narrator’s character. Pagliei rolled out Chef Catalan’s obsession slowly, and I found myself fascinated, eager to know more even as the characters engaged in horrific acts before me. The truth behind Theodore Merrill was fantastic, revealing a secret life that would have consequences Chef Catalan and the narrator. Yet the most sinister part of the story came at the end—like The New Arrival, the best part was the fridge horror realization. A perfectly paced story that I thoroughly savored.

Temporary Saints by JY Yang (Fireside Fiction)

October 2015; 900 words. I love flash fiction because I love seeing what people can come up with in such a tiny space. In just 900 words, Yang builds an intricate world of child saints and tragedy, of the picturesque and the grotesque and their intersections. There’s something so terrible about the way the parents in “Temporary Saints” grieve. I can’t help but unpick the metaphor and extend the grieving to how many parents want a polished image of their child instead of the “monster”-like image they see—how the parents of some trans children, for example, refuse to acknowledge their child’s reality even after death and bury them in a suit instead of a dress. There’s so much emotion in so compact a space, and so much to unpack. A great piece.