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March/April 2021
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At Midnight on the 31st of March, by Josephine Young Case (1938)

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—emerges 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.

In the wreckage of the Great Depression, Case's argument for self-reliance, like other agrarian theorists of the early twentieth century, foreshadow the back-to-the-land movement of the sixties. 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.

Joachim Boaz

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