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Lovecraft Country: A Novel Paperback – February 14, 2017
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Now an HBO® Series from J.J. Abrams (Executive Producer of Westworld), Misha Green (Creator of Underground) and Jordan Peele (Director of Get Out)
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, 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.
"The Fire and the Ore: A Novel" by Olivia Hawker for $8.49
A compelling novel of family, sisterhood, and survival by the Washington Post bestselling author of One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow. | Learn more
“At every turn, Ruff has great fun pitting mid-20th-century horror and sci-fi cliches against the banal and ever-present bigotry of the era. And at every turn, it is the bigotry that hums with the greater evil.” — New York Times Book Review
“Nonstop adventure that includes time-shifting, shape-shifting, and Lovecraft-like horrors ... Ruff, a cult favorite for his mind-bending fiction, vividly portrays racism as a horror worse than anything conceived by Lovecraft in this provocative, chimerical novel” — Booklist (starred review)
“Another ‘only Matt Ruff could do this’ production. Lovecraft Country takes the unlikeliest of premises and spins it into a funny, fast, exciting and affecting read.” — Neal Stephenson, New York Times bestselling author of Seveneves and Anathem
“Lovecraft Country is bound to appeal to any reader who wants to delve into the strangeness of our land’s racial legacy.” — Seattle Times
“Lovecraft Country rubs the pervasive, eldritch dread of Lovecraft’s universe against the very real, historical dread of Jim Crow America and sparks fly. . . . Ruff renders a very high-concept, imaginary world with such vividness that you can’t help but feel it’s disturbingly real.” — Christopher Moore, New York Times bestselling author of Lamb and A Dirty Job
“Genuinely spooky... But the real horror is the reality of life for African-Americans in the Jim Crow era... sparks the imagination while also igniting the reader’s empathy.” — Library Journal
“Ruff shows with great cleverness how it’s possible for a group of victims to appropriate the very methods used to victimize them, master those methods, and bend them to serve their own purposes.” — Locus
"This newer book rewards patience, and nowhere more so than in the passages where it heartbreakingly weaves Hippolyta into the actual events that surrounded Pluto’s discovery and naming. Once Ruff took me there, I would’ve followed him anywhere in Lovecraft Country.” — Seattle Review of Books
“Come for the mix of historical fiction, pulp noir, and Lovecraftian horror. Stay for the fun of it.” — Kirkus Reviews
From the Back Cover
Chicago, 1954. When his father 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 Samuel 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.
Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal, the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Braithwhite and his son, Caleb—which has gathered to perform 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 still haunts us today.
- Publisher : Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (February 14, 2017)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 400 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0062292072
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062292070
- Item Weight : 10.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 1.1 x 5.2 x 7.9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #27,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Reviewed in the United States on September 9, 2020
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Only a few pages take place in the actual Jim Crow South; the rest is in New England, Wisconsin, and especially Chicago, where the families actually reside.
A step back.
Matt Ruff is an idiosyncratic sort of a writer, who doesn't like to do the same thing twice. His _Sewer, Gas and Electric: the Public Works Trilogy_ is a deconstructive pisstake on (among other things) near-future science fiction, conspiracy theory fiction, and Ayn Rand's philosophy, while his _Bad Monkeys_ does much the same for action-adventure thrillers. Here he deconstructs Lovecraft with a sharp-but-rusty scalpel.
I've mentioned in the past that we need a word for books like Wolfe's _Fifth Head of Cerberus_, Le Guin's _Four Ways to Forgiveness_, and Robinson's _Icehenge_: things that are made of individual stories, but aren't exactly novels, but aren't fix-ups either because the stories interact in a way more complex than that of the typical series-of-stories-made-into-a-fixup-"novel." Well, whatever the term winds up being, _Lovecraft Country_ is one of them.
In the first story, Atticus Turner returns from service in the Korean War to find his father, Montrose, (with whom his relationship is, at best, strained) missing; the only clue he has leads him to Ardham - that's _Ardham_, with a D - Massachusetts. With his uncle George (Montrose's brother) and cousin Letitia, they head for Ardham.
Now, let us be clear. It is not as if they don't know what they're heading into here. George is the publisher of "The Safe Negro Travel Guide," an analogy of the "Green Book" African-Americans used to carry to find places where it was safe for them to travel, eat, and spend the night in what was still a _very_ overtly racist society. Because of this, George knows that Ardham is in the midst of a "sundown county," a place where African-Americans had best not let sundown catch them. And, indeed, they have a rather nasty run-in with the county's racist Sheriff, and survive only due to an unseen ally.
Arriving at Ardham, they find themselves the guests of Samuel Braithwhite, a leader of the Order of the Ancient Dawn, a gang of "natural philosophers" who want to use Atticus in a ritual that will make them all-powerful and immortal and all that there stuff. Well, Braithwhite's son Caleb sabotages the ritual, helps Atticus and company escape, and that's the end of the story.
Except it isn't; for in a series of further stories, mostly (as noted) set in Chicago, Atticus's relatives and friends undergo a series of mystical or just creepy adventures, often involving Caleb Braithwhite and Chicago's own racist police ... including the local leader of the Order of the Ancient Dawn. These adventures include haunted houses, shapeshifting, obscure ancient texts, and gateways to other worlds, one story for each of the major characters in Atticus's circle.
Several details emerge.
First, that the supernatural stuff is nowhere near as scary as the way the Braithwhites, the police, and white folks in general, treat our protagonists: at the very best, as means to their ends. Ruff - as far as is possible for a white man in the early 21st Century - has done his best to recreate what life was like for "Negroes" in that time and place; and I suspect that if he has erred, it is on the conservative side.
Second, that Ruff sees the quest for power (at least through "natural philosophy," but, I suspect, any quest for power) as inherently corruptive. Caleb Braithwhite is not exactly a _bad_ man. He betrays his father, but he has, or thinks he has, good reasons for doing so; he manipulates others, but always seems to think that his ends justify the means. While this is not Orwell's vision of power ("Imagine a boot..."), it is clear that the people who seek power are generally not the ones you want to _have_ it. Indeed, Caleb is one of those charming villains like Victor von Doom that you can't help liking even as you root for him to be defeated.
And, third, that Ruff is one hell of a writer. His characters live and breathe, sweat and bleed, love and hate, and we feel their pains and (all too few) joys.
Probably stone Lovecraft fans will hate this book. Thoughtful Lovecraft fans - hell, thoughtful people in general - will love it. I did.
He has written that this book began life as an idea for a television show and that makes sense when you consider the format, a series of interconnected stories revolving around a Black Chicago family. It's very much like a season of a television show. This gives Ruff a chance to explore different POVs and times in history and it's a strength for him. If a reader finds a story less compelling, you also know there is another one coming up shortly and it may be very different. I will admit that I was sometimes this reader, a couple of the stories just didn't work as well for me.
If it's a struggle for you to believe that a Black family in Chicago with memories of the Tulsa race riots and modern experiences of violent segregation, police discrimination, and problems accessing employment and public services may be cautious around white people (even before they run into a family of occultist plutocrats deadset on using their bodies for weirdo rituals), you probably won't enjoy this book because of its focus on "racism."
The Plot: This book is told as short stories that are all connected involving two black families (the Turner's and Dandridge) and friends, as deal with magic, power, racism, and freedom. The main story is Atticus is found to have an ancestry of Braithwhite blood who are a powerful elitist cult of warlocks, with ties to the Klan. They want to perform a spell that requires a sacrifice of a Braithwhite, and they think Atticus is perfect for this. The kidnap his father and torment his friends and family. There's story that involve space travel, potions that can turn people white, possessed African voodoo dolls, and Haunted houses.
What I Liked: This book is heavy in racism, but it is balanced in humor, how the Turners get out of a racist town, and a great moment when the reparations are paid back. The cover really captures the book having the Klan robes also double as tentacles. The Ruby story where she drinks a potion to turn white, and gets back at a white woman who accused her of stealing. The story of the Haunted house that's full of a racist ghost, but come together when the home is threatened by other racist. The characters are all written pretty memorably it is a little hard keeping track of who is related to who, but I eventually caught on.
What I Disliked: It took a little to long for the short stories to all start connecting, I honestly thought for the longest time they were not going to connect, so I ended up breaking up this book between other books, which I wouldn't recommend doing, because at the half way point everything starts connecting and I was like crap let me go back and reread to make sure I get everything and their connections. I would've liked for the ending to be a little bit more epic, it good but it had a really great potential to be extra special. It took me about 40 pages to get in to this one.
Recommendations: This book is my first 5 star of the new year, I will say it barely made it when I feel out a review I fill out the stars first, but going through all the things I liked and the difficult tone of this book that it did a really great job to pull off I gave it a rare 5 out of 5 stars. I think this is a great on to check out if you like historical fiction, supernatural, and science fiction, this is a great blend of all those mixed in with a dash of horror. I will say as horror element go the racism and tension of possible death by racist is scarier than any creature or horror in this book. Trigger Warning if racist language is a trigger for you, just be warned there's scenes of it used and brutality that comes with it but a lot of little pay off through out. happy reading, every one, would love to hear others opinions on this book since it was like a best of both worlds mix of horror science fiction and history.
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It's in the "daily lives" though that the differences start to arrive. There is a counterpoint theme, also of ancient evil but a much less alien, more recognisable and, yes, more frightening evil: racism. Specifically, racism in the United States in the mid twentieth century. Atticus, George, Montrose, Ruby, Hippolyta, Horace and the other central characters in this book are black. The story(ies) are told from their point of view: when a character appears who's white, we're told that: the issue of whether or not they're a particularly hostile, dangerous white is never far away, whether implicitly or explicitly; daily life is an endless matter of calculating safety and danger; the family history is full of the fruits of slavery, and everyone is living with its consequences.
The very chapter (or story) headings, for the most part, reflect this, giving accounts of pogroms or escapes, murders, legally sanctioned discrimination (for example, restrictive covenants preventing property sales to black people) and other horrors.
And these are true horrors. Towards the end of the book, we read this account:
'We were on the grass in front of someone's house. The people inside heard me yelling and the porch lights came on. I saw my father had been shot in the side and there was blood coming out of his mouth. He has this look on his face. Horror. Horror at the universe. I was too young to understand it. I thought he was afraid because he was dying, but that wasn't it at all. It wasn't until I had a son of my own - a son who wouldn't listen - that I understood what he felt.
He wasn't afraid for himself. He was afraid for me. He wanted to protect me. He had: he saved my life, getting me away from that gunfight. But the night wasn't over and he knew he wasn't going to be there to see me through it. That's the horror, the most awful thing: to have a child the world wants to destroy and know that you're helpless to help him.'
If you want a real description of awful, cosmic horror, isn't that it? The burbling, sanity blasting Lovecraftian things-from-beyond-time really come down to this: powers that will come and destroy those you love. Powers that would brush you aside like a gnat. But we don't have to wait till for an alignment in the heavens for these to manifest - they are here and around us already.
In this book, we see relatively little of the classic horror tropes - and those we do see have generally been summoned or conjured by white cultists in their white robes. We see far more casual prejudice, malice, hatred - the sort of hatred that will shoot a father, burn his son, rob and lie. The Turners, the Dandridges, the Berrys aren't surprised when these powerful white men (they are mostly men) grasp magical power too, just as they hold sway in day to day life. It's only to be expected, and all part of the real horror.
The reader soon learns to beware of every random encounter with a figure of (white) authority. These can easily end up with the protagonist dead, arrested, fired, or driven away. Hence those endless calculations of risk and options: hence the book which George publishes, The Safe Negro Travel Guide, which gives advice on where to go and where to avoid, which restaurants will serve his readers, where one can stop to use the toilet even. It's a book that has to be constantly updated.
In a world where this is the mundane reality, is there really much additional horror from a thing with many tentacles that lives beyond the stars?
I feel that Ruff has brought off a brilliant conjunction here - the stars must be right! - between reality and fantasy horror and moreover to do so he's repurposed writings from an author who is - as Montrose points out early on - deeply problematic in his racial views, views that also seeped into his works. I would say it turns Lovecraft's writing on its head, but it's more a drawing out of what is already there to make them, in effect, challenge themselves.
I realise all the foregoing may make this book sound like the driest of polemics, but it's really not. The stories explore and in some cases parody or reconstruct a variety of genres from outright horror to fantasy and even Golden Age SF. They are peopled by a gallery of characters - the whites who mess up the lives of Ruff's protagonists aren't, for the most part, cardboard racists (a few are). We have a shrewd magician who sees the advantage of treating well those who are, in an ironic twist, his distant relatives, descended from a fleeing slave of his family. There is an irate ghost who comes to an accommodation with the new occupants of his house, to everyone's advantage - while the (living) neighbours are still (literally) throwing excrement at the house. It's a complex world where there are opportunities as well as risks, but, unsurprisingly, the dice are loaded against you (if you're black).
The book also has moments of great humour, particularly in the stories that involve Ruby who has some truly strange experiences that give her, perhaps, a perspective not available to the other characters, alongside the terror. But it ends on an ironic and - in light of recent events - rather sad note, quoting from the 1955 edition of George's Guide which looks forward to '...the time, not far off now, when all travellers are treated as equals'.
We still wait for that time. May it be with us soon.
Whilst, as a white author, he’s done his research into 1950’s America and what it means to be black I never felt that he got under his characters skins and we understood the real hurt done. There’s a piece to this as well where the racial bits would suddenly pop out to the fore (like Cato in the Pink Panther movies) and disrupt the flow of the horror story.
There was a strange competence to the characters as they come into contact with something other that didn’t ring true. They all felt, black men and women of all ages, like they were well read sci-fi nerds who knew exactly what to do.
The novel is episodic in nature and was more like a collection of connected short stories. Some work better than others (I liked the haunted house one) but they all felt terribly derivative and familiar. As well, there truly isn’t much of a Lovecraftian vibe to things, it’s a pastiche of all elements of Sci-Fi and horror.
There’s probably a bit more whimsy on display as well than you see in the trailers for the tv show.
Not quite there, but being episodic there are some bits you might like.
Dive in, it takes you places you don't necessarily want to go to but, nevertheless, need to see.