Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country brought back my own love-hate relationship with HP. Some of his stories are among the scariest I have ever read – the first of his that I read, The Shadow over Innsmouth, was amazing for its sense of paranoia, claustrophobia, and fear of the ancient and unknown, and it left me afraid to turn off the lights.
And yet…it didn’t take a genius to see that Lovecraft was horribly racist, with very little camouflage or code. This feature wasn’t part of his personal life that didn’t show up in his fiction – it was his fiction, and his fears of miscegenation and non-white people drove the horror.
Thoughts on the actual novel in question follow…
- Ruff pulls a neat thematic trick by parlaying Lovecraft’s obsession with bloodlines into his story of African-Americans pulled into a white sorcerer conflict by virtue of interracial relationships. It’s never quite clear whether or not bloodlines actually have anything to do the ability of the magic-wielders to, uh, wield magic, but it’s clear that the characters – at least the white ones – think so.
- Ruff walks us through Lovecraft country using one African-American family as a lens, with short stories connecting through the family members. Part of anti-racist work is getting us to see other people as individuals, with complex community and familial relationships. In that sense, this novel does that job perfectly.
- I still struggle with Ruff as a white writer taking on the task of writing actual black people into Lovecraft’s world. On one hand, it seems presumptuous of him. On the other, since us white people need to talk with ourselves about racism, perhaps what Ruff is doing is part of that very valuable work.
- I prefer option two…
- Lovecraft Country most appealed to me, I think, because I really liked the characters. Certainly, making sure that the black protagonists triumph could be read as cheesy.
- Ruff though doesn’t let us off the hook, even with the realtively happy ending. When his characters are told by the sorcerer that they have outwitted (because in part of their ability to get along with everyone) that now they probably think their lives are going to great, they just laugh. They know, as African-Americans in a racist country, that his prediction is foolish.
- They also seem to know, though, that the strength of their family and community ties will help them anyway.