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September/October 2017
 
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The Great Demonstration, by Katharine Metcalf Roof (1920)

This was Roof's only supernatural novel, but many of her stories, published in pulps and slicks, waded into fantastic waters. These stories, skilled and sometimes inspired, have never been collected, which probably accounts for the author's present obscurity.

The Great Demonstration offers everything one could reasonably ask of a novel: rounded portraits of the three main protagonists, who take their positions in a tragic romantic triangle; satirically pointed typecasting for minor characters; detailed observations of setting (New York and coastal Maine resorts, from the 1890s through WWI and after); stylistic sparkle; and thematic heft. Occult enthusiasms of the day are used here not just for character development and mood-building but for sociological analysis. The author convincingly, though never tendentiously, places them within the long New England tradition of spiritual entrepreneurialism. She portrays them from various characters' viewpoints: prismatically rather than dogmatically. This indirectly makes the point that "disorganized" religion becomes a Rorschach blot for the projection of almost random subconscious energies.

Nor does the novel lack generic fireworks. Roger, the son of a disgruntled German émigré determined to raise an überkind, boosts his will power to mesmeric levels that can manipulate other people's actions and feelings at a distance. Later he learns astral projection, which figures in the eerie climax of the tale. The other two actors in the triangle, Lucretia and Terry, embody a comforting Yankee normalcy. But, although their insensitivity to paranormal reality hides it from them, it doesn't hide them from it.

The author took this novel seriously and so should readers.

—Robert Eldridge

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