Monday, June 12, 2017

Book Review: "Lovecraft Country" by Matt Ruff

Yeah, Tina, that's how I felt after reading this book. This was one crazy, creative, confusing ride!!

In 1954, the U.S. was still deep in the throes of segregation and blatant racism. When Korean War veteran Atticus Turner finds out his estranged father Montrose has gone missing, accompanying a young, confident-looking white man to a small town in New England, Atticus knows he must find him and see what trouble he has gotten himself into. Accompanied by his Uncle George, publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, and his childhood friend Letitia, the trio experience more than their share of racist and dangerous encounters along the way, as they travel in and out of less open-minded communities.

"White people in his experience were far more transparent. The most hateful rarely bothered to conceal their hostility, and when for some reason they did try to hide their feelings, they generally exhibited all the guile of five-year-olds, who cannot imagine that the world sees them other than as they wish to be seen."

When they arrive in the small town of Ardham, Massachusetts, and the sprawling manor home of Samuel Braithwhite (who happens to be the ancestor of those who owned Atticus' grandmother), they are somewhat shocked to find Montrose kept prisoner in the cellar of an Ardham building. Braithwhite and his son Caleb are part of a secret order called the Order of the Ancient Dawn, and the group has very interesting plans for a ritual to regain their power—a ritual that involves Atticus. And while Atticus may have a trump card to play, using it may unleash years of danger upon his family and friends.

What follows are interconnected chapters involving Atticus, George, George's wife Hippolyta and his son Horace, as well as Letitia and her sister, Ruby. The chapters involve all sorts of magic, occult, ghosts, racism, space and time travel, social commentary, and threats of violence, as one who was once in power tries to establish his dominance again. These are wild stories for which you'll need to seriously suspend your disbelief, but Matt Ruff tries to provide pointed commentary on how racism can destroy the fabric of our country and cause people to do things they know they shouldn't.

Lovecraft Country pays homage to the horror novelist (and racist) H.P. Lovecraft. It's well-written and creative, but it just gets too unhinged after a while. The narrative in each section seems disjointed and the pacing at times moves slower than I would have liked. But when the book starts barreling toward its conclusion, it makes you feel a little breathless, as you wonder how Ruff will tie everything up.

Matt Ruff's first novel, Fool on the Hill, a fantasy totally unlike this book, is one of my favorite books of all time. His subsequent books definitely challenge your perceptions of reality and are tremendously thought-provoking. I know that this was the objective here, too, but it just didn't quite click for me. But if a combination of social commentary, allegory, and the occult sounds irresistible to you, definitely pick this up, because combined with Ruff's storytelling talent, it may be a home run for you.

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