Thursday, January 26, 2017

Review: Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

Lovecraft Country is a great read. It has engaging characters, a nice storytelling rhythm, some interesting historical facts and it addresses deeper themes about Lovecraft and racism. 

It’s all about an African-American family with a blood connection to a Lovecraftian sorceror, and their entanglements with his unspeakable cult that still gets together for evil rituals in the countryside. In between, they deal with even scarier stuff, like racist neighbor teens with cans of gas, and the Tulsa Race Riot

Lovecraft wrote all kinds of foul racist things. Amusingly, he wrote anti-semitic things too, until he married a Jewish woman. In fact, he was one of the writers that made me sort of understand racism –that kind of visceral horror some people can get when surrounded by people with a different race/history/culture/smell. Sort of like what population-hysterical proponent Paul Ehrlich invoked when projecting a future overpopulated with Others. In a world where you have no status, your culture ain’t shit, your language may not be spoken, and while you may think you look okay and they look funny, yours is a minority opinion.

Lovecraft conveyed that very well. The horror upon encountering cultures older than the oldest lore your ancestors ever gave you. The terror of standing out in a crowd. The disgust at seeing unfamiliar facial features. The turmoil at encountering beings that spit on everything you hold sacred. His is the terror of the insulated colonial subject upon reaching the edges of the territory. The chill early astronomers must have known when contemplating bodies outside our system, or outside our galaxy. 

Some folks, in fact, Stephen King for example,feel that Lovecraft had a major hand in inventing the horror genre. He built at least a wing of it, foundation sunk into a terrified imperial citizen’s encounters outside the realm. Right next to Mary Shelley’s hall of technological terrors.

Lovecraft Country pays Lovecraft sincere homage while specifically looking at his racism. In the context of the often acidic culture wars, it is a story that says “hell yes there is racism here, and the proper response to it is not to squeal in outrage and distance ourselves, it is to respond appropriately to both the racism and the art. They can’t be separated, but they can be examined, with a few history lessons thrown in. 

Interesting and strong characters, a writing style that pops along crisply without wallowing in vague tears, some novel twists on old ideas -- there's a lot to like in this book. 

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