Book Review: At Midnight on the 31st of March, Josephine Young Case (1938)

3.5/5 (Good)

Preliminary note: This review is a slightly different version of the article I wrote for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction‘s “Curiosities” column in the recent March/April (2021) issue. I received permission from C. C. Finlay to post it on my site after the magazine hit shelves. You can read the article on the publisher website here. An index of earlier installments of the column can be found here. It makes fun browsing if you are interested in the more esoteric reaches of the genre.


Josephine Young Case (1908-1990), the daughter of pioneering industrialist and the first chairman of General Electric Owen D. Young (1874-1962), crafts a novel in blank verse. Released in the ninth year of the twentieth century’s worst economic crisis, this speculative epic poem is a strident call to return to the soil and reaffirm the value of work.

As if hermitically sealed, the town of Saugerville—a distillation of rural Americana newly electrified—remerges in a pre-Beringian wilderness of loneliness and endless trees. Roads evaporate into forests, electricity flickers off. A new cartography intrudes with its center on the clustered houses, two steeples, and roughhewn fields. Tracing an ensemble cast over one year, Case unearths a traumatic tapestry of severed horizons and grim survival.

Some residents find meaning in a comparative dance with their pasts, now only a substratum of memory (“’Folks had good families in those days,’ said Ed”). Others fear a further constriction of horizons, cutting neighbor from neighbor (“An even smaller band left here to face / In twos and threes a strange and hostile world”). One character, possessed by primordial dreams of power and prestige, conjures fantasies of wealth in a cave at the edge of the forest. For some a sense of doom remains, buried in their hearts, festering as the darkest nights set in.

Final Thoughts

SF Encyclopedia describes the book as a proto-Stephen King’s Under the Dome (2009) (although, I suspect, only the beginning). In the wreckage of the Great Depression, Case’s argument for self-reliance, like other agrarian theorists of the early 20th century, foreshadow the back to the land movement of the ’60s. As the horror fades, Saugerville’s new traditions reaffirm the ties that bind and push aside the technological obfuscation brought on by an increasingly industrial age.

Recommended.


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