Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, twenty-two 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 Atticus’s great grandmother—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 one black family, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today. (via Goodreads)
Why Did I Choose This Book?
Lovecraft Country has been on my TBR list for quite a while. There has been a plethora of literature riffing on Lovecraft’s mythoi that is a reaction to Lovecraft-the-author. I don’t know if this has occurred with any other problematic author. Maybe it’s time and distance that has allowed it to happen (thanks to the public domain*) or the acknowledgement that the worlds Lovecraft created have been undeniably important to fantastic fiction and shouldn’t be abandoned due to the dubious philosophies of their author.
HBO is producing a Lovecraft Country series that premiers in August and their trailer reminded me of the book, which was available from the Tempe Digital Library. I read the first couple pages and pretty much ditched everything else I have been reading to go on a ride through Lovecraft country.
*Well, Lovecraft’s works are probably in the public domain. There are issues…
Every once in while, I open a book and it is the characters that immediately hook me. I think the last time it happened was with the Last Policeman series. Hank Palace and Atticus Turner are similar characters in some ways. Both are competent men who remain stolid despite the bizarre circumstances they find themselves in. These are the kind of characters I love.
In an interview, Matt Ruff said he originally conceived of Lovecraft Country as a sort of anthology series with each character getting their own story, but all the stories interconnect. As a result, each chapter of the book focuses on a separate character, advancing the plot along from the first chapter which is entitled Lovecraft Country. And this works! I hope the HBO series preserves that.
Ruff does a good job with the setting: the real world of 1954 with a twist. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Robert Block, Ray Bradbury, and other authors are all authors in this world. When Atticus goes to “Lovecraft” country, he’s going to the New England he’s read about in Lovecraft’s stories. But of course, there are differences. Cabals of wizards for one. The Safe Negro Travel Guide is also a fiction also, though based on the real Negro Motorist Green Book. For the most part, the real and the fictional work together rather well.
The most common criticism I’ve seen of Lovecraft Country is that it isn’t very Lovecraftian. Indeed, this is not a Lovecraft pastiche. It only tangentially hints at cosmic horror, and then takes more of a science fiction approach to it, while still having ghosts and cults and “natural sciences.” It is exactly the bits I like about Lovecraft, divorced from the pulps and given to good characters inhabiting a more realistic world.
Original Publishing info: HarperCollins, February 16, 2016
My Copy: OverDrive Read, Tempe Public Library