cover image The Sub: A Study in Witchcraft

The Sub: A Study in Witchcraft

Thomas M. Disch. Alfred A. Knopf, $24 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-679-44292-9

Disch's Supernatural Minnesota novels--which include The Businessman: A Tale of Terror; The M.D.: A Horror Story; and The Priest: A Gothic Romance--comprise a mock epic on modern American values. This new addition to the series builds on the achievement of its predecessors and secures his tenure as the Swift of supernatural satire. The titular ""sub"" is Diana Turney, a second-grade teacher hired by the Willowville elementary school after two of its faculty are prosecuted for satanic abuse of students. Diana seems just a harmless eccentric--prone to lacing her lessons with gleanings from her unorthodox beliefs in Wicca and vegetarianism--until a session with her astrologer-therapist uncovers repressed memories of sexual mistreatment by her father. Empowered by her new awareness, and aided by a magic herbal tea brewed from mandrake root, Diana becomes a latter-day Circe who entices men sexually and then transforms them physically into the image of their (mostly) piggish natures. This unsympathetic portrait of the victim turned predator is just part of Disch's broad and refreshingly unrestrained critique of our current culture of dysfunction and victimization, represented by a large cast of social misfits that includes Diana's sister Janet, who is serving a prison stint for shooting her husband during one of his adulterous liaisons, and her sexually na ve paramour, Alan Johnson, who discovers he's been sired by his grandfather, a Protestant minister. Though the characters are tabloid fodder, and the ingredients of the complex plot--which include incest, parenticide, emasculation, serial murder, cannibalism and religious hypocrisy--potentially weighty, the novel is a light souffl of black comedy, kept tantalizingly aloft by Disch's deadpan wit. (July)