Horror fiction doesn’t feel all that effective to me anymore. I’m sure this has a lot to do with the many apocalypses we’re required to ignore. What’s scary? I don’t think of ghosts or demons when I walk through a darkened room, I think of being thrown off of Medicaid. How many evil beings that feed on fear or pain can we accommodate? If they were real they’d be in danger of ending up like suburban ducks, so overfed on garbage that they’d be born with wing deformities.
Horror fiction anthology podcasts are a genre unto themselves, and I listen to them, like, a lot. It’s a comfort, to have the hushed monotone of a narrator reciting nightmares. I don’t pay much attention most of the time, it’s just a thing to have in the background for when my attention wanders, because horror is less horrifying than silence.
Like any genre, there’s a formula. I’m far too old to care that something follows a familiar path. I don’t like Dinosaur Jr. because I’m surprised by their songs, and fish and human beings and bugs all have heads and limbs, and most days I’m able to tell them apart.
This is how the genre works: First person narration. A calm recitation, either from memory or found document, of a thing that is at once able to be described and indescribable. Archival, stand-alone stories contribute to an understanding of a larger and more threatening whole. As a listener progresses through episodes the case is built, like the narrator is identifying elephant parts and describing them in terms of tactile sensation. We have ideas about what the thing is going to look like at the end, but never entirely.
As with most things, the level of competence fluctuates, and people play to their own strengths as storytellers. You know who fucking nails it? Jon Ware and Muna Hussen, the creative team responsible for I Am In Eskew. Who are they? No fucking idea! But they’re doing something very smart and very cool.
I Am In Eskew is a first person journey through a city that is threatening to individuality, sanity life and love. Our two primary narrators are both lost, and desperate, and oblique. There are things that the listener does not know about them, and it feels very much like the narrators might not know these things themselves.
The core dynamic of the story concerns the production of images and the production of space. It is about the psychic warfare that is waged through a built environment and how we are all drafted into this conflict with little awareness (most of the time). And it is about beholding: The malevolence in the story demands that it be seen and accepts nothing less than full attention. One of the capacities of the narrators that makes them heroic (and relateable) is their ability to forget and live alongside a horror this insistent.
I Am In Eskew follows its characters through spaces of consumption that are always also places of production: Restaurants where bad food becomes good through the medium of money, no matter what happens in the back-kitchen. Sub-par housing where the sharing of space makes strangers into enemies in the span of time between shifts. Public transport where the uncertain allure of death invites a person to simply try it out. There is nowhere in Eskew where there is not a sort of reciprocal imprisonment, both contributing to and composed of a malicious affect that haunts far beyond its geographical bounds.
I think what is so effective about the writing is that it is not fantastical. It is, if anything, simply a deeper shade of what most of us live through. We try not to gag on the false appearance we’re forced to swallow as we trudge through a world that has been weaponized against us. It is so deeply and thoroughly a political story that it doesn’t have to state it. It’s subtle and smart, funny and desperate, and (maybe) hopeful.
So, toss a coin to your witcher and give it a listen.