I started the Lovecraft Country novel, written by Matt Ruff after watching the first episode of the new HBO series. I stopped watching the series and started the book. As such, I won’t be comparing the book to the show because I am not in a position to do so.
The Lovecraft Country novel does what the best horror does: uses the fear of the unknown to explore humanity. And what’s even more clever about this book is the use of racism to really drive the horror home. Without the racism that permeates the book, both in large and small ways, this would still be a good book. However, by placing the racism Atticus, George, Letittia, and the other characters face, this book really grounds the reader in reality. This is important when dealing with otherworldly forces because it gives readers something to grasp onto. And in this book especially, because of H.P. Lovecraft’s awful racism, the hate and bigotry take on an even more sinister notion.
Now, the idea that the real monsters are humans is nothing new in the annals of horror entertainment. But in this book, that adage takes on a deeper meaning. The characters are never safe in this book, even when it seems like they are. They are not safe from the cosmic threats they face, nor are they safe from cultists who would control those threats. And of course, they aren’t safe from racist attitudes and people, even in the North.
The combination of the racism and the existential horrors facing the characters makes the Lovecraft Country novel stressful to read. It’s a harrowing look at the persistence, permeation, and persistence of racism.
Racism is the Real Horror of Lovecraft Country Novel
Yes, bulging fleshy blobs that will kill you are scary. But, what’s even more terrifying is the everyday horror of bigotry the characters face daily. Reading this book gives readers some insight into what BIPOC face on a regular basis, and while fictionalized, we can’t ignore the lessons. Sure, the racism might feel too extreme or cartoonish, but that’s just not the case. I don’t think it is possible for creators to present racism as over exaggerated or too extreme. I know there are some people who do, but that’s silly, especially when Tulsa happened, the Red summer happened, Emmet Till, and countless other examples.
By focusing on the racist aspects of the world, and Lovecraft himself, the book forces the reader to confront US history. Now, there isn’t a deep dive into the causes of racism, or all of the horrible events done under its name. However, there is enough surface exploration to evoke curiosity and the need to know more, which is one purpose of art.
I don’t want to make it sound like the Lovecraft Country novel is a drab and dour affair devoid of hope of laughs. It isn’t. Despite the dire circumstances the characters face, they still manage to laugh and smile at times. They manage to live, even in a society that takes every pain to suppress and humiliate them. For me, this is the key to the book. If it had been all racism and existential dread, it still would have been good. But, it wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable or effective.
Have you read it? Let me know in the comments what you thought. Thanks for reading.