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You might have heard Scott Carrier on National Public Radio, reading his stories about his life or investigating cases of other people's lives gone awry. Hearing him read gives one a way to understand the subtle meanings of his sentences--he reads in a deadpan, sober, almost fragile voice. If you haven't heard him, you might get the wrong idea--after all, he writes about going hunting as a boy, and playing little league football, and then about his many years on the border of the mainstream, almost as a failure, living out west in a rough part of town, with a gun-toting neighbor, working for his younger brother as a house-builder. You might start thinking along the lines of Jack Kerouac or Ernest Hemingway, a macho dissident condemning the softness of modern society. After all, when his older brother is studying for his Ph.D. dissertation, Carrier write a note to his brother's advisor:
Dear Dr. Rezner,
I assume that you are aware of my brother's heart condition and probably even believe you understand the pathology involved. Let me be perfectly clear: if my brother dies under your supervision you can kiss your own sweet ass goodbye.
But hearing Scott Carrier read makes it clear how much more subdued and bemused he is, questioning himself and his place in the world. He never actually delivered the note he wrote to Dr. Rezner. All of the stories are powerful and stay with you for days or even weeks after reading them. One of the more poignant ones is about his experience going to the homes of people diagnosed with schizophrenia. He earned money by conducting interviews with those people, asking them a long series of questions. This is a low point in Carrier's life, and not only does he convey the loneliness of his interviewees, but he also makes clear how strongly he identifies with them, and how painful it was for him to be doing this job.
Later in his life he seems to be more content with himself, but he still seeks out people who have very difficult lives. He visits Cambodia to report on its emerging tourist industry, but he is mostly interested in the lives of ordinary people there, and how they cope with the terrible recent history of their country. Indeed, several of the stories near the end of the book show an increasing awareness of global political issues, and a sharp awareness of the impact of government actions on the quality of everyday life of the least powerful people in society. Even when he is not in the position of underdog himself, he is able to convey what it is like for others. It is that sense of humanity that makes Running after Antelope such a gripping book.
Despite his understanding of the fragility of life, Carrier also conveys a sense of self-containment. Like the ancient philosopher Epicurus, he isn't ambitious in a traditional sense, and finds the dogmatic convictions of other people utterly foreign to him. His achievement is to find satisfaction in his life despite the difficulties thrown at him, without ever becoming self-satisfied. The thread that ties the different stories together is his search for confirmation of a theory of his scientist brother that humans were able in the prehistoric past to catch antelope by running after them for days on end. Carrier is apparently fascinated by this theory and by the challenge involved in finding proof for it. The emotions he invests in this idea seem to involve his identification with the ancient hunters and even possibly his identification with the hunted antelope. But what probably really appeals to him in this puzzle is its unconventionality and independence from the thought of the twentieth century, an era which makes little sense to him.
Scott Carrier on This American Life: (Hour-long Real Audio Files)
- Factions: Scott Carrier on a group of Mormons who try to start their own polygamist splinter group. May 26, 1996, Episode 21
- Scott Carrier: Haiku stories. September 6, 1996, Episode 35
- The Test. Radio producer Scott Carrier, at a low moment in his life, quit his job. His wife left him. Took the kids. And he got a job interviewing schizophrenics for some medical researchers. After doing it a while, he began to wonder if he was a schizophrenic himself. September 27, 1996, Episode 37 (Also available on the double CD Lies, Sissies & Fiascoes: The Best Of This American Life)
- Swimming Lesson. Scott Carrier's wife and mother-in-law insist that Scott's 3 1/2 year old daughter enroll in swimming classes. November 1, 1996, Episode 40
- Finding Amnesia. Who among us has not wanted amnesia, to help get over someone or something? But the problem with amnesia is that it happens a lot more in TV shows and movies and novels than it does in real life. We send reporter Scott Carrier to find someone who really has had amnesia. It's such a difficult assignment that at some point, he visits a hypnotist and asks her to take his memory away. November 15, 1996, Episode 42
- Whoring in Commercial Radio News. Scott Carrier took a job in commercial radio working for a network correspondent he refers to as "The Friendly Man." Every story was supposed to be upbeat, a tale of people coming together in the heartwarming spirit of community. And every story they sent him on turned out to be a sham. When he tried to tell his editors the story they wanted was untrue, he was told that attitude would get him fired. December 6, 1996, Episode 45
- Justice: Scott Carrier on "Teen Court" in Tucson Arizona. January 3, 1997, Episode 48
- Running After Antelope: Scott Carrier in Salt Lake City with the latest installment in his 12-year quest to chase down and catch an antelope. October 17, 1997, Episode 80
- Book of Job. Reporter Scott Carrier does a story about Harvey "Job" Matusow. March 13, 1998, Episode 96
- Church of Latter Day Snakes. Scott Carrier tells the story of trying to bring a part of the outside world inside the house when he was a boy. His brother wanted to capture a rattlesnake and bring it home and keep in the basement, as a secret. It didn't work out as they planned. December 10, 1999, Episode 146