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Synopsis via Goodreads: 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, 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 centres 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 spectre that continues to haunt us today.
This book is a helluva fun ride. Being an avid fan of H. P. Lovecraft’s weird tales, I had been looking forward to reading Lovecraft Country for quite a while. One of the things that drew me to Ruff’s fantastical and bizarre adventure story was how it combines Lovecraftian elements with a primarily black cast of characters in 1950s ‘Jim Crow’ America. Anyone familiar with Lovecraft and his stories will know that the author, who wrote his popular tales The Call of Cthulu and At the Mountains of Madness in the 1920 and 30s, was an undeniable and unapologetic racist. While this way of thinking is obviously atrocious, I love that Ruff wrote a Lovecraftian tale with all black characters. Lovecraft must be rolling in his grave over this. Fusing heroic black characters with a historically racist author’s weird fiction genre creates a powerful and thought-provoking glimpse into American social history as well as the history and traditions of science fiction and fantasy narratives which primarily follow white protagonists.
The book is separated into chapters that are formatted like short stories but all contribute to the overall narrative. Each chapter is designated to one of the book’s protagonists, of which there is a wonderfully diverse cast of personalities. However, the chapters are not isolated and the protagonist of each chapter interacts with the characters from the other chapters which all leads towards the book’s climax. I found this to be a wonderful technique for telling this particular story as it was an absolute pleasure to head-hop through the various character’s experiences surrounding a particularly troublesome cult.
My only issue came from the first chapter featuring the lead-protagonist, a 22-year-old war veteran named Atticus. I admit that I wasn’t instantly hooked and while the story in this chapter was interesting I had issues connecting with Atticus on an emotional level. It wasn’t that I didn’t like his character, I just found him to be a bit flat and dull in comparison to the other characters in the book. But he did grow on me and while he was probably my least favourite of the bunch I liked him a lot more by the end of the book.
While I may not have adored Atticus, I absolutely loved the brilliant female characters who had their unique own Lovecraftian adventures. Letitia, Hippolyta, and Rose were an absolute joy to read for completely different reasons. Letitia from the very first chapter was headstrong and ambitious. Her love for her friends and community was so strong and she was constantly determined to fight for both herself and those she loves. Hippolyta’s chapter titled ‘Hippolyta Disturbs the Universe‘ made me cry. She had such ambitious dreams and a unique opportunity to make them come true. Her drive and love for her passions of the universe were so inspiring. I think out of all the subplots, hers was my favourite. I’ll definitely be re-reading that chapter again soon. And finally, lovely Rose. Her personal story was more heartbreaking than the others, but it really highlights the extreme difference in treatment between white and black Americans during this time in history. Overall the chapters and character experiences were so different and exciting, but they all shared a common element regarding the disadvantages, racism, and physical and emotional mistreatment of black Americans.
Ruff’s Lovecraft Country is a book I will suggest to everyone I know until they experience it for themselves. I think it’s an important story that tells the history of American racial politics in a unique way. It’s also a super fun adventure story with space travel, ghosts, fanatical cults, and magic. It’s really all of my favourite genres wrapped up in one lovely package. I’m also super excited to say that HBO has picked up Lovecraft Country for a new series which I just read about on Matt Ruff’s blog. And of course, J. J. Abrams is attached to the project as a producer along with Jordan Peele, Misha Green, and Ben Stephenson. Sounds like a great start! I can’t wait to see the casting in the future. Can I suggest Lupita Nyong’o be cast as Hippolyta? Pretty please?