Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff.
“…Stories are like people, Atticus. Loving them doesn’t make them perfect. You try to cherish their virtues and overlook their flaws. The flaws are still there, though.”
Influenced by such writers as Edgar Allen Poe and Algernon Blackwood, H. P. Lovecraft published his first cosmic horror stories in the early 1920s. Full of bleak, supernatural horror and science-fiction, they were a hit, influencing writers and artists ever since, but they were far from perfect. Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country is one of the first well-marketed book to attempt to tackle head-on the undercurrent of (and often times outright) bigotry in Lovecraftian fiction, as well as other classic sci-fi and horror tales.
The book is a novel, but it reads more like a collection of short stories, each connected to form an overarching plot. Though Lovecraftian characters and situations run consistently throughout the book, each chapter is a take on a different classic work, focusing on an individual from one of two African-American families 1950s America, doing their best to live normal, peaceful lives, despite increasing interference from both human and supernatural entities.
The first chapter focuses on Atticus Turner. As a child, he was a science fiction and horror aficionado, a trait shared with his uncle George, and the above quote appears early on during a conversation about the tendency of these works to belittle non-whites. Atticus’s father Montrose disagrees; in his view no man should put up with such insults, but he doesn’t believe in censorship and allows young Atticus to read them anyway. As he grows, differing views on life push father and son apart, but when Montrose goes missing Atticus doesn’t hesitate to begin the search for him.
Along with His uncle George and his childhood friend and neighbor Letitia Green, Atticus is lured to a rural estate by a power-hungry cabal called the Order of the Ancient Dawn. It turns out that he has ties to one of the cabal’s most powerful practitioners, Titus Braithwhite (long ago vaporized in a ritual-gone wrong) and they need him to finish what Titus started. Both Turner and Green families become embroiled in the cabal’s scheme and must use their wits and love for each other to survive.
The book explores not only the rampant racism in America and the flawed literature it produced, but also ties between families, friends, and the need to work together to succeed in this world. Lovecraft lovers who come looking just for a creature-feature will be disappointed (most of the monsters here are human, though there are a few unearthly terrors), as will those looking lessons about racism in America that are new or even at all subtle. But despite not being perfect, this book is not only a good introduction to certain issues in classic sci-fi and horror, but an extremely compelling read in its own right.
Sara J. Ingle is a Circulation Assistant at Mebane Public Library. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 919-563-6431.