Lovecraft Country: book in review
The critically acclaimed cult novelist makes visceral the terrors of life in Jim Crow America and its lingering effects in this brilliant and wondrous work of the imagination that melds historical fiction, pulp noir, and Lovecraftian horror and fantasy.
Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, 22-year-old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned one of Atticus’s ancestors—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.
At the manor, Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal named the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb—which has gathered to orchestrate a ritual that shockingly centers on Atticus. And his one hope of salvation may be the seed of his—and the whole Turner clan’s—destruction.
A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of two black families, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.
Let me say, period pieces really are my favorite niche in any genre. While working as a colorful backdrop, it also ought to really become a character in and of itself. That’s to say, the characters within the story should be effected in some way, both great and small. You can’t just say your on the 1950s and not have some sort of conflict within the boundaries of that era. And Lovecraft Country is sweating Jim Crow. Every action and resolution is weighed against a concise and chillingly real understanding of what it was like for African Americans during segregation. I’m actually a big fan of studying this precarious time in our country. Yes, fan may not be the best choice of words and there are lots of harrowing and sinister moments and events, but (to me at least) there are a lot of heroes that are born from this era in history. Author Matt Ruff capitalized on that, I think. His characters, the Berry’s and Turner’s, had to face extreme racism and event he more subtle and more sinister forms of it, but they stood the test, in their own way. Atticus’ father, Montrose, for example, I did not favor him in the beginning, to me he seemed a harsh kind of father figure, but later on, discovering his history and his ultimate message to the black youth around him, I began to like him more and more. For the historic setting and the story surrounding it, top marks.
But as a Lovecraft inspired work of fiction? Some debate could be made. There is a feeling, a vibe that hints at a cosmic dread, but nothing on the level as H.P. And for those looking for Lovecraft are bound to be disappoint, at least a little bit, right? And that’s okay. Truthfully, I had hopes of seeing more of Lovecraft’s world, not just having his work mentioned between a group of unlikely sci fi fans. The supernatural is certainly there, or as they call it “natural philosophy.” But what Lovecraft Country really lacked was teeth, especially if stamping the title with Lovecraft’s name. Lovecraft Country was like a PG romp into some rather serious issues dealing with race in America and reading the characters all coming out unspoiled seemed disingenuous. Fun, but not realistic.
In summary, Lovecraft Country works as a reminder and a warning regarding the legacy of Jim Crow America. The tension is clearly defined and some parts were hard to get past. The history was spot on and believable. But as a Lovecraft stamped title…it lacked that sense of dread, lurking creatures or not, that ought to come with every Lovecraft inspired book. An argument could be made that the dread was with the characters having to survive the effects of segregation, that the hidden lurking unfathomable monstrosity was in fact racism itself. Still, in the end it felt as if most things had been resolved, more or less. Parts of the book, which was designed in short story increments that connected eventually together, wrapped up too neatly. And the lack of death or any serious permanency felt strange compared to the real threat this part of our history posed to those who lived it.
Rumor is, Lovecraft Country has been picked up to be developed as a TV show, and seeing how Matt Ruff wrote the book with an adaptation in mind (most likely to reason for lacking any real depth) I’d be interested in seeing how that would work, especially if the rumors are true and Jordan Peele (Get Out fame) will executive produce the book as an HBO series. Get Out was one of my favorite movies to come out thus far this year and I am excited to see Peele’s name attached to the project. But I have my doubts anything Lovecraftian will surface.
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Thomas S. Flowers writes character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews horror and sci fi movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest contributors who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.