This American Life - Stories of Hope And Fear

Various Artists

Shout! Factory, 2006

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/30/2006

Chicago Public Radio’s This American Life (TAL) -- distributed by Public Radio International -- is a fascinating radio show that picks a particular theme every week and features essays, field recordings, short fiction and interviews on that theme.

No, TAL doesn’t model itself on the vacuous and distasteful antics of the many Howard Stern-style shows on commercial radio, and ergo doesn’t indulge in inviting guests to see them eat goat testicles in the studio or encourage people to call up to let them know about the chick flashing them. TAL is just too classy and unique to be compared with other radio shows.

This American Life has a warm, edgy, and stylishly realistic approach to presenting its stories. Hosted (and produced) by the geeky and smart Ira Glass, who sets up the stage before each segment of the show, every show of TAL is like spending an hour inside a sound capsule, which is like a new world where even the most pedestrian of ideas come to life.

In what is the third installment in “best of” series of TAL, Stories Of Hope And Fear is as humorous and touching as any of this show’s episodes.

The two halves of this double CD set – one is called Hope and the other Fear – have stories centered around those two simple human feelings. Each of these discs is presented like a single episode of TAL, featuring five to six stories, and as with most of the episodes producers Jonathan Goldstein, Alex Blumberg and Nancy Updyke make appearances as well. Of course, a crazy David Sedaris short story is included.

The opening story “If I Can Make It There” is an interview with Jorge Just, an average-Joe who shares the hilarious experience of how his New York apartment that he had newly moved into had become the focal point of the TV show nbtc__dv_250 The Bachelorette, for the reason that the person who Jorge took over from was rejected on the show solely because of the apartment.

“Is This Thing On” is an equally funny account of contributing editor Goldstein’s relentless attempts to do stand up at a karaoke bar, irrespective of being booed every time he went on stage. “Thinking Inside The Box” is a heart-wrenching tale narrated by David Wilcox about his mentally retarded sister, for whom the passing way of their mother – who sacrificed her entire life to take care of her daughter – to cancer meant nothing, as her mental state couldn’t fathom things like death. The whole story revolves around his sister’s mix tape that she would listen to everyday and the videotape made by his mother for his sister just before her death.

“Infinite Gent” is a very warm interview with a man who was born a female and got his sex changed, on the challenges he is facing in living a completely changed life and getting accustomed to it. The following cut, “Miami Vices,” is an excerpt from an open mic session where participant Sascha Rothchild reads candid and funny selections from her diary about public school, which she forced her parents to send her to. The final act from Hope, “The Babysitters,” is a bizarre true account of a sibling that invents a fictional familyof whose existence the mother starts believing in.

Fear begins with “Fear Of Life,” which is simply the fears penned down by the developmentally challenged Michael Bernard Loggins and read out by actor Tom Wright. Loggins’ fears range from the common to the peculiar, including this one: “Fear of holding a woman’s hand while you are going down an escalator and realizing that it is a stranger’s hand, not your mother’s.”

The following act “On Hold No One Can Hear You Scream” is a story of the show’s senior producer Julie Snyder’s 10-month long ordeal battling with a major telephone company over a simple billing error, and how it gets resolved in a matter of minutes. “Anti-Oedipus” is probably the most touching story on this collection,a true-life account of a family whose only child, a gay son, becomes the real life Oedipus Rex when he has to play the role of his father with his mother without even intending to.

“So A Chipmunk And A Squirrel Walk Into A Bar” is the Sedaris appearance, an uproarious short story about a squirrel and a chipmunk that are dating and what jazz does to their relationship. The CD ends with “Slingshot,” a story of a guy’s fear of a deadly amusement park ride and how he overcomes the fear by riding it.

TAL’s unpredictability and eclecticism make every show a unique listening experience. No matter what the theme is, the manner in which it is presented is always interesting and innovative. This is one of the most intelligent radio shows of all time and far more entertaining than anything on TV.

Rating: A

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© 2006 Vish Iyer and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Shout! Factory, and is used for informational purposes only.