Lovecraft Country | Author: Matt Ruff | Published: February 16, 2016
In a story filled with monsters, creepy cults, and other things that go bump in the night, Lovecraft Country’s focus on Jim Crow-era America elicits the most fear and tension.
Set in the 1950s, Lovecraft Country explores the many facets of being a black American during the reign of Jim Crow — a name that actually sounds very cultish and creepy. With an overarching plot that is divided up into separate chapters for each character, the book tells the story of a group of people trying to get by while being squashed down by laws affecting their race and other sinister forces at work.
Atticus, a young man who researches travel destinations for his uncle’s book, The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is pulled into a malevolent plot when his father, Montrose, goes missing. Atticus goes on a road trip to find his missing father and along for the ride are his uncle, George, and their friend, Leticia Dandridge. According to the map, they are heading straight into Lovecraft country.
As the name suggest, there are a lot of Lovecraftian elements in this book. From mysterious cults to otherworldly monsters and haunted houses, the book draws a lot from the acclaimed horror author. However, it doesn’t ignore Lovecraft’s own racism or idealize the author in any way. Matt Ruff took the bits he wanted, creating a tale that is creepy and nerve-wracking while also telling a great story about family and what makes people family.
After finishing the book, I was tempted to start over again because I couldn’t put the characters away just yet. All the characters are three dimensional and feel human. The villains aren’t the stereotype you usually get when authors try to utilize Lovecraftian style. Each main character gets their own chance to shine in their own chapter with most of the chapters hitting it out of the park. Some chapters are slower than the others which can drag the novel down a bit but it usually picks up in the next chapter.
Even though most of the creepy monster business isn’t very scary (aside from the haunted house chapter and yes, there is a creepy doll), the true horror lies in the racism exhibited by skeezy officers, detectives, and the wealthy members of the cult, Sons of Adam. There is a particular story that made me shiver about a researcher for the guide getting stuck in a strict Jim Crow county that will stick with me for some time.
Overall, I would highly recommend Lovecraft Country for anyone looking for a book that delivers a different kind of fear with characters that are smart and three dimensional and villains that aren’t cartoon caricatures. Lovecraft Country paints a truthful, un-idealized view of America during a dark period in its history and that is scarier than any of the creatures in the book.