Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
Matt Ruff’s stories are imaginative and dark and weird. Extremely, so.
He also seems to touch nerves right at the heart of American life.
His latest novel is as weird and imaginative as I would expect, and both historical and timely.
The “Lovecraft Country” refers to the environs of H. P. Lovecraft, and to the strange Lovecraftian “Adamite” Society conducting magical conspiracies in the US circa 1954. As these wierdos say, times are changing, and they are going to change a lot more. These ancient magicians are working to hold off the future, with the arcane tools of the past. However laughable, they are still very dangerous.
The interesting twist—very Ruffian—is that this supernatural horror is juxtaposed with the real life historical horrors of Jim Crow America. The African American families experience systematic discrimination, casual racism, bullying, police violence, and domestic terrorism. Every day, all life long.
Tie joke is, of course, “Which is the greater “horror”?” Cold, soul sucking beings from alien dimensions, or the casual, crushing cruelty of pervasive racism? Ruff makes it tough to choose which is the greater evil. (As the old bumper sticker joke goes, “Cthulhu for President: Why Choose The Lesser of Two Evils?”)
Ironically, the experience of racist America may have been unintended salvation for these families, preparing and hardening them to deal with the inhuman savagery of these crazy (white) secret occult masters. Dealing with vicious racist police turns out to be good practice for dealing with vicious occult conspirators and powers from another dimension.
It is not easy to read the never ending drumbeat of Jim Crow oppression in this story. I’m sure kids today will not believe that this is real history, which unfortunately it is.
This historical fiction also gives added perspective to what is at stake in the contemporary rise of racist nativism in the US, and reactionary politics everywhere. It makes me furious, and it makes me determined. Through decades of struggle, we have moved forward, and will never go back. We. Will. Never. Go. Back. Never.
I loved this book, warped and twisted as it is.
- Matt Ruff, Lovecraft Country, New York, HarperCollins, 2016.
Sunday Book Reviews