Thomas M. Disch was born in Iowa, but both sides of his family were originally from Minnesota, and he moved back there when he was an adolescent. Although he only lived in the Twin Cities area for a few years, the state left an impression on him, and between 1984 and 1999 he veered away from the science fiction for which he had become best known to write four dark fantasy novels which have become collectively known as the “Supernatural Minnesota” sequence. The University of Minnesota Press recently republished the entire quartet, and Beatrice.com’s Ron Hogan has set out to revisit each novel in turn, starting with The Businessman, The M.D., and The Priest.
Just as The Businessman and The Priest both begin with a woman in a cemetery, the opening chapter of The Sub: A Study in Witchcraft (1999) echoes The M.D. Both scenes take place in a classroom in the Twin Cities suburb of Willowville as a teacher shatters the illusions of her students. This time, instead of a nun breaking the truth to kindergartners about Santa Claus, a substitute teacher named Diana Turney is using “Old McDonald Had a Farm” to explain the stark reality behind where hamburgers come from.