Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

What a terrific book. What it lacked in pathos for me, it more than made up for in the breadth of its empathy and historical vision.

Structured as eight short stories and an epilogue connected by their cast and timeline, Lovecraft Country plunges an ordinary black family of the 1950s and their friends into the kinds of eldritch terror made famous by that dreadful racist, H. P. Lovecraft. If anything, the main weakness of Matt Ruff’s book is that it doesn’t reach the levels of creeping supernatural horror often achieved by the book’s namesake. However, it more than makes up for it by exposing the all too real horrors of American racism, something far too many Americans want to forget or pretend were never that bad. Mr Ruff does something extraordinary with this book by not only putting this terrible evil front and center but also by making it a worse villain than anything dreamt of in natural philosophy, as the occultists in this book call their branch of study.

My favorite stories were, interestingly enough, the ones with female protagonists. Hippolyta Disturbs The Universe was easily my favorite of the bunch, both in the dream-like quality of the storytelling and for the sheer scariness of it. And the emotions! As a mother and an intellectual, I very much connected with Hippolyta and with Ida. It was also hard not to connect deeply with Ruby’s story in Jekyll In Hyde Park, even after coming to sympathize so well with her brave and clever sister, Letitia, in the first two stories. Which isn’t to say that the male characters aren’t also well drawn and sympathetic, just that Mr Ruff does an exceptional job writing of black women, a demographic which he does not have a natural advantage in, not being a part of either.

Anyway, I’ve already added another book of his to my To-Read pile because this extraordinary book shows off a mind that is at once keenly intelligent and determinedly kind, a combination I particularly love of my authors. Also, Mr Ruff’s writing is funny as hell. Atticus’ deadpan response to Samuel’s big speech in the opening story still makes me laugh just thinking about it. I have a feeling that reading more of Mr Ruff will be both a pleasure and a reminder to be a force for good and the truth. Not many authors can pull off both.

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