Friday, May 18, 2018

Alone: A Love Story

I’ll never forget where I was the first time I heard the song Oh, The Divorces! by Tracey Thorn. It’s one of those songs where you hear those first three plaintive notes repeating on the piano and instantly know that you’ll have to stop what you’re doing and hear it out. Midway through the first verse, the sadness starts washing over you:

And each time I hear who's to part
I examine my heart
See how it stands
Wonder if it's still in safe hands
Ms. Thorn is reminding us of that gut-check moment when we hear of a divorce and it makes us question everything that we thought we knew about ourselves. Towards the end of the song, the imagery becomes almost unbearable:

And oh, oh, oh
The honeymoon, the wedding ring
Oh, oh oh
The afternoon handovers by the swings
I recently listed to the entirety (seasons 1 and 2) of Alone:A Love Story. In this podcast, Michelle Parise takes it to another level by sharing with the listener her personal and heartbreaking divorce story. You could take each word from the aforementioned song (honeymoon, ring, swings, charmer, karma, …) and rest assured it is covered in great detail in these episodes.

If you happen to be someone with empathy, this podcast is not an easy listen. Perhaps the primary message in season 1 is that there is so much pain and anguish in this world, it may be more than humanity can bear. You can sense that Ms. Parise carefully prepares each line, like a chef seeking the ripest fruit, until is dripping with raw emotion. She casually drops in phrases like “why do we have the capacity to be so cruel to the ones we love?”. And truth be told, I find that the closer I get to Ms. Parise as the story goes on, the more my heart is aching along, right on cue.

By episode 6, the listener quickly learns about a level of grief that transcends essentially everything. In a particularly memorable incident in episode 7, even a random road rage incident is no match for the power of a sadness that ultimately brings the two unexpected combatants together in their humanity. The segment ends with the stark realization that “Sometimes a total stranger believes in you more than the one you love most”.

When my friends and I watched the Twin Peaks reboot last year, the penultimate episode was so amazing and complete that we briefly considered not even watching the final episode for fear that it could not possibly top what we had just seen. And in some ways I wish we hadn’t. The final episode went in a completely different direction, and opened up a lot of questions that will never be answered.

In much the same way, season 2 of Alone: A Love Story takes a different turn. Although it was no less entertaining than the first season, it changed the themes around and made it difficult to reconcile what to think of the decisions made by our protagonist. And of course it ended with a lot of open questions, which we are now left waiting to see if they might be answered in future episodes. It is a bit titillating to know that, as I write this and as you read it, our hero is living out the life that we may one day get to hear about (or perhaps not).

There were several interesting choices made in this podcast. The first was brilliant. The “bomb” that is going to be dropped is revealed right at the beginning, before it happens. This allows the listener to avoid treating the story like a mystery, and to focus on it for what it is – a real-time, first person account of a tragedy and its repercussions. There is also a nice static audio effect that makes it easy for the listener to keep track of when the narrator is bouncing forward and back in time.

The second choice is one that I’m not sure about. All of the male characters in the story are referred to as inanimate objects. One is “The Scientist”. Another is “The Man in the White Shirt”. And so on. I suppose it does make it easier to keep track of the characters, and avoids the baggage that comes with using names (or fake names). Maybe since it’s her real life, Ms. Parise couldn’t legally or morally use real names. Anyhow, it comes off a bit strange, but does give it a unique feel.

Of course over time we come to realize that the title of the podcast reveals exactly what we are all rooting for – which is that our friend can fight through her demons and finally embrace living alone. She is still struggling through this when season 2 runs out. For now we can only hope that, like any great love story, it will have a happy ending – and that we will someday get to hear it!