THE SUB by Thomas M. Disch


A Study in Witchcraft
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If Jesse Ventura thinks Garrison Keillor is the enemy, wait till he gets hold of this newest installment in Disch’s luridly entertaining “Supernatural Minnesota” series (earlier offenses include The Businessman, 1984, The M.D., 1991, and The Priest, 1995) The story’s certifiably insane actions occur in and around the rural metropolis of Leech Lake, an unassuming hamlet distinguished only by an old folks” home with a pronounced Native American presence, Navaho House, and nearby New Ravensburg Prison. But things get interesting when ’sub—(stitute teacher) Diana Turney begins recovering memories of sexual abuse by her late father Wes, and is mysteriously drawn to the smokehouse where Wes’s body was found. Diana’s sister Janet is doing time for shooting her unfaithful husband Carl, a guard at New Ravensburg, where inmate Jim Cottonwood, falsely convicted of rape, exercises his ’shaman frame of mind” to commune with shape-shifting comrades. If you think that’s strange, how about Diana’s assumption of witchly powers (Wes still exercises power over her), her nasty habit of turning complacent men into (what else?) pigs, and a revenge plot involving a woman similarly metamorphosed, her hellfire-and-brimstone father, and a virginal teenager obsessed with the newly empowered (hence irresistible) Diana? “It can be unnerving to be stared at by four large pigs,” the omniscient narrator mildly remarks, as part of a godlike commentary that seasons an increasingly bizarre plot with amusing mini-essays on such topics as original sin, the gender wars, Native American folklore, and the morality of vegetarianism. Think Our Town or Winesburg, Ohio on overdoses of Mom’s apple pie and Grandpa’s elderberry wine, and you—ll have an idea of the stomach-churning hilarity of Disch’s impertinent assault on “innocent” Middle America. Over the top, of course—but good, dirty fun anyway, from a stylish satirist who knows how to sling it with the best of them.

Pub Date: July 6th, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-44292-8
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1999


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