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Book Review: 'The Sub (A Study in Witchcraft)'

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The Sub (a Study in Witchcraft)

Current Status:
In Season
Fiction, Horror, Mystery and Thriller

We gave it an A

This is the latest novel in Thomas M. Disch’s loosely connected ”supernatural Minnesota” series, and as with its three terrific predecessors, The Businessman, The M.D., and The Priest, it’s futile trying to anticipate where the story might be headed. Smug and neurotic Diana Turney, an elementary-school substitute teacher, discovers (with the assistance of her father’s malevolent ghost) that she has a talent for witchcraft, specifically for turning people into animals. Diana’s victims, who range from a state policeman and a local Romeo to her own sister and brother-in-law, end up either as house pets or livestock, their human natures partly, but only partly, obliterated. (By the way, The Sub is irresistibly interactive; you can’t help but wonder who you might like to turn into a cat or a sow or a snake.)

Who can stop this American Circe? Will it be the goofy teenage boy who’s fallen helplessly in love with her and who is spared being changed into a pig only so long as he remains a virgin? (Which might be forever, since he’s not just a virgin, he’s impotent.) Or will the increasingly mad Diana be destroyed by her serial-killer boyfriend? Or by the falsely imprisoned Native American shaman-in-training who can transfer his personality into the body of a crow? Or by the Lutheran minister who’s reincarnated as a petulant spider following his suicide? I’m not telling, but keep your eye on Diana’s creepy niece, a little girl with a big passion for Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Like Roald Dahl, Disch (a former EW contributor) can take the most ludicrous premise and shape it into a fantasy that’s fresh, funny, cockeyed, and in-your-face wicked.