In this episode we discussed House of Stairs, by William Sleator.
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Ren: Welcome to Still Scared: Talking Children’s Horror, a podcast about creepy, spooky and disturbing children’s books, films and TV. I’m Ren Wednesday, my co-host is Adam Whybray and today we’re talking about the 1974 novel House of Stairs by William Sleator. Enjoy!
Ren: So we teased this a fair bit in the last episode — this is House of Stairs by William Sleator, the second in our William Sleator exploration. I don’t know if we’re going to do any more?
Adam: Not for now, maybe sometime in the future.
Ren: So I’ll give a little description of the plot, the summary is: Five sixteen-year-old orphans of widely varying personality characteristics are involuntarily placed in a house of endless stairs as subjects for a psychological experiment into conditioned human response.
That’s essentially the plot, they’re in this mysterious building that’s made up entirely of blank, white staircases.
The only feature is this machine that flashes and produces food when they perform certain actions, and the actions that it demands become increasingly complex until the machine requires that they turn on each other to receive food.
Two of the group end up rebelling, and decide to starve themselves rather than participate in this, but the other three become increasingly inhumane and vindictive as they’re thoroughly conditioned by the machine, and at the end it’s revealed that they’re part of a psychological experiment to produce an elite and ultra-obedient group of teenagers to do the government’s dirty work, essentially.
Shall I just introduce our characters as well?
Peter is the first character we meet, he’s dreamy, gentle, and seems quite weak, but then turns out to be the one who incites rebellion against the machine.
Lola is confident and aggressive and she’s most convinced of the sinister nature of where they are from the beginning. And she joins Peter in rebelling.
Blossom is greedy and manipulative and set against Lola from the beginning. She’s from an upper class background.
Abigail is meek, elegant, easily manipulated and in thrall of Oliver.
And Oliver is confident, charming, wants leadership of the group. Prone to manipulation and aggression when aggrieved.*
They’re all sixteen and they’re all orphans. So did you want to explain a little bit about the classical conditioning that is a central theme of the book?
Adam: So as you said, all the characters are in thrall to this machine that produces food pellets, and this book is essentially a response to B.F. Skinner’s book Beyond Freedom and Dignity — which is an amazingly sinister name for a scientific treatise! That was published in 1971 and explains Skinner’s theories of classical conditioning.
Most of you will probably be familiar with Pavlov and his dogs? Classical conditioning basically works through associated stimuli. So for example with Pavlov’s dogs, Pavlov found, supposedly, that his dogs would salivate at the smell of food and then he would ring a bell to coincide with the preparation and the giving of this food and then found eventually that he could ring the bell and the dogs would salivate at the sound of the bell, as they had learned to associate the sound of the bell with the arrival of food.
And this is called classical conditioning, it’s using positive or negative stimuli in order to reinforce behaviour.
And this is the kind of conditioning that’s used by the machine, so basically at it’s most simple, the kids get fed when they do what the machine wants them to do. And they have to kind of intuit what the machine wants, by trial and error and also they start to get a kind of rhythmic feel for it.
At first they have to do quite a simple dance, and then increases in complexity until it becomes quite highly ritualised and then eventually this is replaced by an implied injunction to be violent and cruel to each other. And two of them resist, and the other three go along with it.
Ren: Yeah, there’s quite a detailed description of the dance, in all its complexity, I don’t know if I should read a little bit of it to show what they’re doing?
I’ve got the page here:
‘At this particular moment their dance went like this: Lola and Blossom, opposite one another, circled slowly around the hole in the landing. Their arms were extended above their heads, swaying from side to side, hands out-stretched. As each one reached the point nearest the edge she would spin around quickly, timing it so that the spin occurred at every other flash of light; and at the moment of spinning, each would raise her head and emit a high-pitched wail.
At the same time, Peter and Abigail, timing their movements precisely to the flashing light, performed a complex series of movements on two adjacent stairways - bowing to the landing, rising to their toes and waiting for a flash with their hands on their hips and their chins lifted, turning, lifting a leg behind and bending to touch a stair above quickly with both hands, waiting for a flash, turning, moving quickly down to the landing to meet Oliver, waiting for a flash, then back up on the steps, where the pattern would begin again.
And Oliver, Oliver in the centre of it all, moved alone. He would begin between their two stairways, stretching, his back arched; then suddenly leap, landing on a flash of light and just missing Lola as she passed. Landing with one foot in the air and spinning around instantly to begin a swaying, hip-moving walk, his arms held before him, his hands and wrists twining and intertwining, his head bending towards one shoulder and then the other as he moved towards the stairs. There to meet, one every other time, Abigail or Peter. It was always Abigail the first time; he would reach her, grasp her about the waist, and with her body arched she would fall backwards, her hands brushing the floor, until at the right moment Oliver would pull her up to him, and he would step away to begin again. At the next repetition it would be Peter’.
Adam: And instead of Pavlov’s bell, preceding the dance comes a kind of auditory announcement or alarm, and what I thought was an interesting touch was that each of the characters hear it differently. So they each interpret the voice they’re hearing, this alarm, saying something different. So can I read out the different interpretations?
Ren: Oh yeah, go for it!
“I know!” Blossom cried. “They’re saying, ‘Food will be coming soon. Food will be coming soon.’ Listen, can’t you hear it?” Her eyes were darting widely, and she clasped her hands together. “Oh, I hope they’re right, I hope they’re telling the truth! It’s been so long since we’ve had any food.”
“Shhh!” said Lola, waving her hand at Blossom. “I’m just getting it…. And you’re wrong,” she went on suddenly. “That’s not what they’re saying at all. They’re saying ‘Nude in the house of the doomed.’ It’s obvious.”
“But why would they say that?” Blossom cried shrilly. “It’s meaningless.” She spun around to Peter. “You can hear it too. They’re saying, ‘Food will be coming soon.’ Aren’t they? Aren’t they?”
Peter shook his head. “I… It, it sounds like… ‘Be careful in Oliver’s room.’”
“What?” cried Blossom. “But you’re both wrong. They’re saying—“
“They’re saying ‘Nude in the house of the doomed’,” Lola insisted. “Because that’s what we are. We’re helpless in this crazy place. Or at least they want us to think we’re helpless. You just think it’s food because that’s all you ever think about.”
“Stop saying things like that!” Blossom shouted, stamping her foot. “Stop being mean to me! Just remember, you said a couple of things this morning that I could always tell a few certain—“
“What?” Lola stepped towards her. “What the hell are you talking about, you—“
She was interrupted by voices from above, and hurrying footsteps. “— it isn’t,” Oliver was saying. “Can’t you hear them? They’re saying, ‘She gobbled him up in the womb.’”
“No, it’s ‘The dish ran away with the spoon,’” said Abigail, sounding out of breath. “It really is, Oliver.”
(deadpan) Of course, the correct interpretation is ‘She gobbled him up in the womb’.
Ren: Yeah, that’s great.
Adam: So the head scientist at the end of the book, bit of a reveal, there are evil scientists behind this, and the lead scientist reveals that it was just a stream of nonsense gobbledegook, so the idea is that there is so little visual or auditory stimuli around them, everything’s so blank and so white that they’re latch onto any possible stimulus that comes out and project their emotions onto it willy-nilly.
So most of these make sense. So obviously, Blossom is very much characterised as always wanting food, so Lola’s right, she thinks it’s ‘Food will be coming soon’ because she’s always thinking about food. Lola has this very pessimistic reading of the situation, so that’s why she thinks it’s ‘Nude in the house of the doomed’. Peter meanwhile becomes fixated on Oliver —
Ren: — But Oliver is less charming than he first appears.
Adam: Yeah, absolutely. So that subtext is ‘Be careful (in Oliver’s room)’. However. ‘The dish ran away with the spoon’, I guess Abigail is a bit head-in-the-clouds, a bit dreamy?
Ren: Yeah, that’s what I got from it. That she’s a little bit of a dreamer.
Adam: What about ‘She gobbled him up in the womb’
Ren: Well, I have no idea about that.
Adam: No, me neither.
Ren: I mean, it’s great, but… who knows.
Adam: It definitely shows the dark depths to Oliver’s personality. (Adam assumes pompous Oliver voice) ‘You’re all wrong! Of course it’s that, it’s logical! What else would it be?’
Ren: ‘It makes perfect sense!’
Adam: ‘Personally, it’s my catchphrase!’
So shall we focus a bit on Oliver and Blossom, because they’re definitely the central — well really, to be fair, the adult scientists are the central antagonists, as they’re the ones who have devised this awful manipulative experiment, but for the purposes of plot ostensibly Oliver and Blossom are the antagonists. So shall we start with Oliver?
Ren: So, Oliver very much comes into the situation wanting to take up the leadership role. When he first appears, Lola’s off trying to find a toilet but Oliver appears and he starts doing a little song and dance and getting everyone laughing.
Adam: And actually it’s a very strange song and dance! Oliver’s tendency towards troubling gobbledegook starts quite early. I’ve written down his song, which goes, I don’t quite know the tune but — (Adam sings with much gusto) ‘Happy little sunshine! baby-boo, gurgley-goo, boopity-boo! Strange flowers growing in my garden of love! My garden of love! Love! Love! Love!’
Cue electric guitar.
Ren: Yeah, I don’t know if I’d be merrily laughing along if someone was singing that…
Adam: Yeah, they’re all really into it! They’re all like ‘Brilliant japes, I love it Oliver, great stuff! You’re the leader for us’.
Ren: Lola gets back and she’s unhappy that they’re having fun. Well, she thinks they should be taking this a lot more seriously, and this starts a rivalry between Oliver and Lola, because he’s very used to being able to charm girls, but Lola’s immune to his charms so he’s quite uncomfortable about that. Whereas Abigail is entirely under his spell from the moment they meet.
Adam: Yeah, I’ve just been watching, perhaps against my better judgement, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, with my sister. Have you seen it?
Ren: No, I haven’t.
Adam: It’s basically like Seinfeld except the characters are all wholly reprehensible human beings. And Oliver strikes me as very similar to a young version of the character of Dennis in Always Sunny, who’s basically a sociopath who likes to charm women just so he can get a sense of power over them.
But we just watched an episode where to get revenge on one of his friends, he tries to sleep with his various friends’ mothers and none of them are attracted to him. And over the course of the episode he becomes more and more distressed by this, and the idea that these older women don’t want to sleep with him is so outside of his comprehension and his self-image that his ego crumbles over the course of the episode until he’s basically having a full on existential crisis. And you get the sense that Oliver is just not prepared for a girl of his age to not find him attractive, and is just completely thrown by this.
Ren: And he also has Peter very much in his thrall, because he reminds Peter of a boy who he used to idolise, who used to protect him in one of the state homes he lived in. So there’s also this, not sexual, but romantic undertones in the relationship between Peter and Oliver, although Oliver only wants power really.
Adam: Yes, Oliver becomes Peter’s attachment figure, basically. It feels like it’s romantic on Peter’s part, he certainly talks about love, but he’s also characterised as very innocent and naive compared to the other characters. So it’s not necessarily sexualised. But as we said in Interstellar Pig, despite the fact that these are mid to older teenagers, generally speaking sex is not particularly to the fore in Sleator.
Ren: And it’s kind of suggested that this is a function of the world that they live in. They’re all in very strictly sex-segregated state homes, where it’s been taught that men and women can’t have anything to do with each other. Or, that anything they do have to do with each other is inherently sexual?
Adam: Yes, and I liked that the corollary of this is that it devalues platonic male-female friendships. So by the end Peter and Lola, even though the suggestion might be that they are of queer sexualities, perhaps, but they have formed a friendship and are shown holding hands at the end as friends.
And I liked this idea of the platonic friendship as an act of resistance against the regime. And not something you see that much of in modern adult dystopian fiction, in which relationships might be more romantic.
Anyway, Oliver’s one of the antagonists. The other one is Blossom, and William Sleator doesn’t like Blossom.
Ren: Yes, he emphatically doesn’t like Blossom. Or, I think it’s fair to say, fat people in general.
Adam: Yeah… we touched on this briefly, it didn’t really come up in Interstellar Pig. There’s perhaps a certain idolisation of thin people, but there isn’t much about fat people. But there certainly is here.
Ren: Oh yes.
Adam: Did you keep a tally?
Ren: I did. But it’s almost too much to mention, really. Every time Blossom comes up someone is talking about how fat she is, in one way or another. Either literally calling her fat, or the descriptions of her whenever she’s in the scene. For example, when we first meet her:
‘her features seemed small, lost in mounds of pink flesh; and her body jiggled underneath the white ruffles of her dress as she pressed herself backwards against a flight of steps’
There’s lots of descriptions like that. I think that there’s a lot more descriptions of Blossom’s body than of anyone else’s body.
Adam: Oh, by a long way! It seems almost like the narrative is fixated on Blossom’s body. It’s very odd! And linking Blossom’s body with abjection, which I guess isn’t a new thing in terms of fat shaming, but it’s very over-stated. There’s an emphasis on Blossom’s dress being dirty. And presumably, there’s no showers here, and it’s all very sweaty, so presumably all of their clothes are dirty, but we don’t really get any descriptions of the rest of their clothes. But Blossom’s dress, which starts out white, ends up being described as sweat-marked and filthy and ragged.
Ren: Yeah, it says ‘her filthy dress hanging on her like a shroud’.
Adam: It sort of goes beyond being offensive to being kind of… concerning?
Ren: It’s just relentless. To the extent that either when Lola and Peter are starving to death and they’re just sitting motionless trying to conserve as much energy as possible and the others sneak up on them, and Lola taps Peter on the shoulder and says something about ‘oh, it didn’t take long for Blossom to get fat again’
Adam: Yeah, they’re clinging onto their life! Literally at death’s door and they’re like ‘must…insult…Blossom’s…weight’.
Ren: I was reading stuff that @Kivabay on twitter writes a lot about fat studies and he’s been talking about the horror of corporeality and how that’s specifically there in our reaction to fatness.
If we’re thin enough we can pretend that we don’t have fallible human bodies that get sick and betray us, and fat people are an affront to that sense of immortality. And I think that Blossom is getting quite a lot of that in this book.
Adam: It’s hard because, I guess especially when we’re talking about a gay author, Sleator’s gay, or he was, he’s dead now. But to a certain extent there does seem to be a certain discomfort in talking about sexuality in Sleator’s books. This is something that Adam Cadre’s mentioned in his survey of all of Sleator’s fiction, and it’s something I’ve noticed.
And yeah, it’s young adult fiction, but for instance there’s a lot of kissing between Oliver and Abigail, and it’s very odd because Oliver is written as though he has sexual desires, and as though he might be quite a predatory figure, basically. Yet there’s never any indication that he even thinks of pushing this further than kissing at all. That sexuality beyond kissing doesn’t seem to even really exist in this world.
Ren: Yeah, and when it’s Blossom, Oliver and Abigail and they’ve fallen into this routine of tormenting each other to receive food, there’s never any sexual element to that either.
Adam: Yeah, there’s never any sexual threat. Which I can understand, it’s a young adult novel, and I’m not saying it should necessarily be there. It might just be that it would be there in something like The Hunger Games. That perhaps I’m more used to modern Young Adult dystopian fiction which probably would bring that in. But there is something there, I think, about Sleator being not wholly comfortable with talking about sexuality and the body, and there does feel like there is a lot of displacement onto the figure of Blossom.
Ren: Her physicality is just mentioned a lot more than any other character.
Adam: A lot of focus on her tongue, as well. Not necessarily sexualising that, but there are a lot of descriptions of her tongue and what her tongue looks like.
Ren: It’s not just her fat, it’s all of her that gets quite a lot of scrutiny.
Adam: And described in a more sensory way than the rest of the book. And it’s a real shame because otherwise I think it’s a pretty great piece of dystopian fiction. But I have to say, if you would be triggered by demonisation of fatness then you shouldn’t be reading it, or I would seriously advise against it, because I think it would be really anger-inducing, frankly.
Ren: There’s also the the very simplistic thing going on with Blossom that her fatness is representing the excesses of the corrupt government. Unlike the other characters, her parents only died very recently and until then she was part of the elite upper class, and had the luxuries associated with that. She’s had real meat and she lived in an actual house, and that sort of thing. It’s not particularly clever, I think.
Adam: It doesn’t feel like a rigorous engagement with the class system of this dystopia.
I mean, the dystopia is always gestured towards. We never get a full sense of what life is like outside of this facility. Well, we get a few descriptions. Blossom lived in an actual house, or at least a house where one’s family can live, whereas everyone else seems to live in some sort of collectivist tenement housing?
Ren: Yeah, ‘residential megastructures’.
Adam: Like in a JG Ballard dystopia, I guess.
Ren: I did like how you get just hints of the dystopia, I think that was done pretty well. Peter says his father died in the war, and Lola replies ’Same as everybody else’. So there’s been a war, and there’s lots of orphans. They’re not unusual in being orphans. They’re in strictly sex-segregated state institutions, that have a lot of surveillance, we get the impression.
Adam: We certainly get the impression that the government doesn’t have any qualms about human or civil rights. And has a lot of power.
Ren: Something called ‘electric eyes’ are mentioned in passing.
Adam: I think it’s quite a good way of doing a dystopia. Focusing on this micro-environment and then gesturing towards the rest of it. Some people really like extensive world-building, but if I’m honest I struggled, for instance, reading Dune because so much of it was world-building and I struggle after a while. I think you definitely understand what kind of dystopia this is, without it going into great detail.
Ren: Yeah, I like that about it. It’s interesting how you pick it up as it goes along. Oh yeah, the cars have gas masks because the air near the highway is unbreathable.
Adam: Oh, I didn’t pick that bit up!
Ren: Lola’s quite a rebel and she stole a car and then crashed it.
Adam: Sixteen years old and already stealing cars!
Ren: And then tried to flag down help on the side of the highway, but she had to keep going back to the car to get breaths of breathable air.
Adam: There are times when the facility sounds like a reality TV show, which is odd, because obviously this was written a couple of decades before reality TV shows really existed.
Ren: It kept reminding me of this psychological TV experiment I saw, where they had a group of people in a room and there was a counter fixed on the wall that was ticking forward sometimes, and the people in the room got increasingly preoccupied with trying to work out what they were doing that was making this counter tick forwards, or not. And in the end it was revealed that it was just ticking forward based on whether a goldfish in a tank in another room had swum to the other end of the tank or not.
Adam: But presumably they read into it in great detail.
I guess to a degree it illustrates how conspiracy theories come about. Humans are very good at seeing patterns where really there’s just chaos, and building on those patters to create quite complex systems that might not actually be that rooted in reality, but end up internally consistent or self-stabilising.
So, texture of the week!
Ren: (half-heartedly sings) Texture of the week!
Adam: We definitely need some kind of radio stab.
Ren: I’ll see if Maki wants to do us a little jingle.
Adam: With some texture sounds. Do you have your velcro?*
Ren: Ooh, can I? Can I?
Adam: Yeah! (sings) Texture of the week!
Ren: (rips velcro)
Ren: As we were saying before we started recording, we timed this very awkwardly as this book has very few textures and the ones it has are mostly not very pleasant.
Adam: And related to poor Blossom.
Ren: But I chose the description of the stairs themselves, which is:
‘without railings they rose and fell at alarming angles, forking, occasionally spiralling, rising briefly together only to veer apart again, crossing over and below one another, connected at rare intervals by thin bridges spanning deep gulfs. Nothing supported them; the glossy white material from which they were made seemed to be strong enough to arch over great distances’.
I think there’s something quite interesting about that ultra-strong, thin, glossy white material, stretching and arcing and spiralling around.
Adam: Like a film by your least favourite director, Stanley Kubrick.
So my texture of the week was the food pellets, because they taste very richly of meat, but because they’re described as pellets or capsules, I found it very hard to imagine. I wasn’t sure if they were like mini cocktail sausages, or like those fish oil capsules but with liquid meat inside, or like paracetamol that had a meat flavour.
I spent quite a bit of time trying to work out what these were like, because I just couldn’t imagine. And having been vegetarian so long, I can no longer imagine meat anyway! It’s wholly within the realms of the phantasmagorical. They’re all very pleased with this, apparently the food is pretty dire or bland in this dystopia, so they’re all quite excited by the meat, but I think I would have sulked at not having a vegetarian alternative.
Ren: It’s all they get to eat as well, but they don’t seem to mind.
Adam: Meat and water. I read some Goodread’s reviews of this book, and one or two of the reviews said that the message of the book was where we place value, and the importance of human integrity and valuing these inner aspects of ourselves over petty concerns like food. And I thought ‘that’s all well and good, until you’re actually starving’.
To be honest, even though we certainly are meant to read Oliver, and Blossom and Abigail critically for succumbing and eating the food, when I was reading it I thought, I’d like to think I could stick it out for quite a while and not succumb to cruel behaviour but people do underestimate the power of those basic human needs.
Ren: Yeah, I mean it’s not much of a choice at all.
Adam: Which is the whole point of Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Classical conditioning is a scary approach to human psychology because it’s radically anti free will, essentially. It’s depriving humans of a choice or saying that humans don’t have a choice, they’re just being conditioned by stimuli, so the best way to keep a population in order is to artificially induce certain behaviours through the use of stimuli.
And this is a very pessimistic view of human behaviour, but it also does odd things to our understanding of morality, because if there is no free will are we able to morally condemn one another? I think it’s very easy sometimes to think ‘ah yes, I’m superior to my basic human needs’ but I’ve tried going without sleep for a few days, and after three days I was basically hallucinating. It doesn’t take that long!
Ren: It struck me that we’re meant to think of, particularly Oliver and Blossom as being very deliberately manipulative and very clear that they are deliberately being terrible.
Adam: And when we get a glimpse of their inner lives they’re written essentially as having no compassion or empathy for any other human beings whatsoever. They aren’t really given a shred of redemptive qualities at all.
Ren: Which I thought was interesting, as I tend to think that’s not how most people interact with the world? Bad behaviour is more likely to be not as deliberately set out like that, coming from different psychological and experiential routes.
Adam: I tend to think that bad behaviour and abusive behaviour usually comes from ignorance and fear and cognitive dissonance and people justifying unacceptable things to themselves which at the time seems acceptable to them, otherwise they probably wouldn’t do it.
But I’m sure there are exceptions. There are people clearly who revel in being awful, and are quite aware that they are being cruel and just don’t care. But then there’s the question of what behavioural aspects or character aspects have been taken into consideration when selecting these teenagers as test subjects.
Ren: Yes, that’s true. Because they were picking people out who they thought might be manipulated into becoming…
Adam: soldiers, mercenaries —
Ren: torturers, concentration camp guards —
Adam: — stooges of the government and it’s most fascistic impulses. And as we said, they’re all sixteen, they’re all orphans, and they all have phenomenally good balance.
Ren: Yeah, the main twist of this book is that none of them fall of any of these alarming spiralling staircases and plunge to their deaths.
Adam: None of them fall off the toilet. Which is perched in the middle of a foot-wide bridge or something ridiculous.
Ren: Some arching, incredibly narrow bridge, some undetermined amount high up in the air.
Adam: If it’s me in this book, it’s like: (Adam does the geordie Big Brother announcer voice) ‘Day 1, in the House of Stairs house. Adam recoils in disgust at the meaty sausage pellet he’s expected to eat, falls over backwards and plummets to his death at the bottom of the stairs.’
That would be me gone, I wouldn’t have an opportunity to test my morality.
Ren: Didn’t even make it to the toilet.
Adam: Exactly. So however awful the behaviour of some of these characters is, they’ve got to be commended for their balance, at least. Better than mine.
Ren: …chosen for their suspect morality and incredible parkour skills.
Adam: Now that’s a book I want to read! The morally compromised parkour runners.
Any final thoughts on the book?
Ren: We didn’t quite get into the queer subtext. There’s not much there, but.
Adam: It mostly centres on Peter, you can make an argument for the character of Lola as well, I suppose.
Ren: Yeah, I obviously do because I want to to find queer women in things? There’s no evidence apart from that she’s tomboyish, and Peter mistakes her for a boy at first, and Oliver’s charms don’t work on her. She has a certain vibe.
Adam: Yeah, I’d agree with that. And it’s nice that the most heroic characters who have the greatest inner strength and dignity, are the ones who are subtly coded as queer. The less said about Blossom the better.
Ren: I think that’s probably all I’ve written down about this!
Adam: Well, you haven’t heard my sign-off yet!
Ren: Gosh, no, I haven’t.
Adam: Because after last week’s humiliating debacle, I’ve decided to prepare one in advance. So, listen to this: ‘Keep it stairy, spooky kids!’
Ren: Ah wow, Adam, you’ve out-done yourself.
Adam: Thank you! It makes it all worthwhile. Life.
Ren: So if you want to keep it stairy with us on twitter we’re @stillscaredpod or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you next time for I don’t know what!
In an interview, Sleator mentions that each of these characters was based on a high-school friend of his. Which raises some interesting questions.
In the pre-recording chat, I had been absent-mindedly playing with a loop of velcro, making an alarming racket in Adam’s headphones.