Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

 

 

 

 

[Click the cover below to check it out! If you don’t see a book cover below it’s probably ad-blocker settings]

[I really love the creativity for the design here. It’s hard to see on the thumbnail, but the hill that the building is on tapers down into tentacles, and the negative space between the tentacles are KKK/Clan member hoods]

 

“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.”


 

“We can’t stop here. This is Lovecraft Country.”

This quote doesn’t actually appear in the book, but it’s all I could think about and is pretty much what the title of the book is insisting, that there are some locations in the book that are ‘Lovecraft Country’ in specifics when the main characters think that at first they have to go to a location called Arkham [it turns out to be Ardham, but it might as well be the same sort of place].

So let’s get the obvious out of the way here, the elephant in the room if you will. No matter what way you try to spin it or try to excuse that ‘but it was normal for the tiiiiiimes!’ – Howard Phillips Lovecraft was racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and pro-fascism. The themes surrounding his fear of the unknown include people in a whole lot of his books. Many of his stories include the blatant aforementioned racism/etc. Lovecraft lived in his own small world, which is why his literary worlds are so expansive – but his real world was small in a lot of ways.

I will also say that I’m a huge fan of Lovecraft’s works. Most of them. There are a few I have purposely only read once because of his racism, some only out of ‘what the literal hell is this?’ that made me feel like I needed to make my eyes vomit afterwards. I recommend his cosmic/monster horror to anyone who is curious, but I always preface those who ask me of him to warn them of his being an overall bad person.

Lovecraft Country takes that specific racism of his, and flips it on it’s head. Instead of the black characters either being evil/the suspicious strangers, or being dumb and ‘subhuman’ they are the main protagonists of the story and take their power back. The author obviously was a massive Lovecraft fan as well as doing a lot of research on racial history in the US for the story. It’s set in the Jim Crow era, which obviously sets the tone of everything the main characters have going against them. Atticus Turner himself and his full family [and family friends] are dragged into the occult when they discover that one of the founding members of an ancient magic cult rapedone of his slaves and she became pregnant as a result. The cult is outraged to find that their bloodline has been ‘tarnished’ and that the last living descendant of the most powerful member that created the Order is in fact, a black man.

I really enjoyed how many things are called out in the book through the lens of the Turner family. Anything from the ‘Magical Negro’ trope to black people’s bodies being used and abused, literally and figuratively. A very important prospect of the book is black people taking their power back. I also really appreciate just how much research went into the book when it comes to the horrors that BIPOC experience that really are far worse than any cosmic horror out there. There’s a multiple sub stories related to the Tulsa Massacre, the 13th Amendment, The Green Book, Sundown Towns, etc –  and now it relates not only to the Turner’s, but BIPOC people as a whole.

I went in with a mental checklist of ‘Lovecraft checkboxes’ I hoped that this loveletter to Lovecraft would check for me. It checked quite a few. I do feel like Ruff took the general mold of a Lovecraft story, simplified the language, and ironed out a lot of the convolution that can happen with HP’s works and made it a much more streamlined story. I was pretty glad that the horrors of the story are from real life and not completely to do with creatures and the occult [sidenote, I’m actually glad there wasn’t too much creature stuff in the book – just little breadcrumbs to entice the reader, but based on the trailers for the show it seems like they’re slapping tentacles and Cthulhu spawn on everything annnnnd I hope that’s not the case and just trailerbait but we’ll see]. I really do feel like it’s a good overall encompassing story to fit multiple Lovecraft themes.

So now to what I didn’t like so much. First and foremost there are a lot of characters, all who are important to the story in some way and add their own puzzle piece to the whole of the story. There are sidestories going along to the main story itself to these characters and how they all tie in. That being said, multiple really felt crammed in, especially those that didn’t really get their own side stories/highlights added to the story until right near the very end. I’m not kidding when I say that I was getting real concerned that we were still meeting new characters/hearing about their subplots 50 pages before the end of the book itself. As you can imagine, that makes the final conflict/end of the story feel very rushed and to me, made the ending a fizzle instead of a pop. I finished the book with an ‘oh. Alright, I guess.’ It tied up the majority of loose ends but just kinda… ended? I wish either the book had been drawn out a little more or the side characters at least started their subplots earlier in the book.

My main issue with the book however, is that it seemed Ruff was going for this theme of ‘the horrors that the Turner crew have experienced over their lifetimes as an every day horror makes them completely immune to paranormal/occult/monster horrors.’ Which, I totally get the idea of where he was trying to go. Atticus served in the military overseas and saw some terrible things, characters lost family in the Tulsa Massacre, they’ve seen loved ones being lynched/shot down in the woods like animals, etc. All legitimately horrific, sickening, traumatizing things that are still happening today. But I don’t think that’s going to make you completely completely unfazed to seeing the existence of magic proven before your eyes, or seeing people being slaughtered by monsters that up until a few weeks ago you didn’t think existed. Hell, even just seeing people dying from rituals gone wrong that can be explained with non-paranormal things are all horrendous things to witness. But the most we get is one character who is especially scared of spirits, and everyone else kinda having this minor ‘oh shit’ moment before moving on with their lives after witnessing something otherworldly and horrendously violent. There’s not much ‘I have to get out of here and survive’ urgency described in a lot of scenes, either. The level that multiple characters are written to be apparently dead inside enough to not be actually horrified even in the slightest almost comes across as… dehumanizing? It’s happens with consistency between multiple characters in multiple situations that it actually knocked me out of the book for a bit and I had to take a break from reading it because it just didn’t sit right with me. The one character that I feel like actually reacted properly was a child.

I’m not saying I wanted it to be the character passing/blacking out every other scene like in Lovecraft stories, or even their mind breaking from being completely unable to comprehend cosmic horror on such a mass scale – that would make this story pretty short. But… I dunno. It just didn’t sit well with me the entire book.

Overall, if you like Lovecraft’s stories and aren’t one of the uber fans that are losing their goddamn minds about hating on the show before even seeing it or reading the book just because they feel like it’s an insult to Lovecraft to point out his literal historic racism, I think most would like it. There’s nothing wrong for taking someone’s general creations and updating them for a more modern setting that fits the narrative.

 



I give Lovecraft Country 4/5 Sigils of Cain

Rating:

 

“Grizzly bears!” She snorted again, “No, no grizzlies, just black bears.” She said, adding lightly: “But the Blacks are bad enough. They’re smart. Not smart smart – they’re beasts, animals – but clever enough to cause mischief. And they’re persistent. We use dogs to drive them off, but sometimes they won’t quit, even after they’ve been hurt. Those ones do end up in here… after a fashion.” She nodded at one of the haunches of meat.

The pack of dogs stopped barking and Atticus looked over his shoulder. She had come back out on the workshop porch and was standing with her arms crossed, her lips curved in an openly contemptuous smile. Not smart smart, he had heard her say. We use dogs to drive them off. “Yeah…” Atticus murmured. “Okay.”

 

 


 

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