Now an HBO® Series from J.J. Abrams (Executive Producer of Westworld), Misha Green (Creator of Underground) and Jordan Peele (Director of Get Out)
The critically acclaimed cult novelist makes visceral the terrors of life in Jim Crow America and its lingering effects in this brilliant and wondrous work of the imagination that melds historical fiction, pulp noir, and Lovecraftian horror and fantasy.
Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, 22-year-old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned one of Atticus’s ancestors—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.
At the manor, Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal named the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb—which has gathered to orchestrate a ritual that shockingly centers on Atticus. And his one hope of salvation may be the seed of his—and the whole Turner clan’s—destruction.
A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of two black families, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Before you binge-watch Lovecraft Country, which is getting lots of buzz, check out the immersive, terrifying novel it’s based on. Author Matt Ruff takes us on a wild ride through the segregated world of 1950s America, where monsters—both human and phantasmagorical—lurk around every corner. Korean War vet Atticus embarks on a journey to find his missing father, accompanied by his uncle George and his childhood friend Letitia. The trio venture into the deeply racist heart of Massachusetts and straight into the waiting arms of a mysterious cult. Ruff packs his creepy tale with bone-chilling encounters, bloodthirsty demons, and blinding lights. And you definitely don’t have to be a fan of problematic horror writer H. P. Lovecraft to enjoy this dark fantasy. Action-packed and totally mind-bending, Lovecraft Country makes us contemplate how disturbing the existence of otherworldly magic would be—especially in the hands of racists.
This timely rumination on racism in America refracts an African-American family's brush with supernatural horrors through the prism of life in the Jim Crow years of the mid-20th century. The novel's episodic events involve the extended family of Chicagoan Atticus Turner, who are lineal descendants of slaves once owned by the ancestors of New Englander Caleb Braithwhite. As Braithwhite jockeys for ascendancy in the sorcerous Order of the Ancient Dawn, he draws Turner and his family and friends into a variety of intrigues, including the recovery of a book of occult lore, the manipulation of a Jekyll-esque split personality, and encounters with ghosts. Ruff (The Mirage) has an impressive grasp of classic horror themes, but the most unsettling aspects of his novel are the everyday experiences of bigotry that intensify the Turners' encounters with the supernatural. Readers will appreciate the irony of how the Turners' conditioning in enduring racial bias empowers them to master more macabre challenges.
Supernatural Horror and Racism in 1050s America
“Lovecraft Country” is a connected group of stories about an African-American family and their friends who have unfortunately become the target of a secret group of cultists. The book consists of separate narratives often featuring different characters, that each contribute to the overarching story. If this sounds a bit like a TV series, that was one of the stated purposes of the author. This aim seems to have been successful, as the series of the same name is being produced by HBO to be released in the summer of 2020.
The struggle against Lovecraftian supernatural horrors is only one of the challenges facing our group of protagonists, the other more persuasive horror is their constant struggle against the racism of the 1950s. Honestly, this was the most difficult part of the book for me. It wasn’t because it was poorly written, but instead because it was all too realistic. It was in fact based on extensive research done by the author, which is cited in one of the afterwards to the book. There is even a listing of works that one can do further reading about the subject.
The Lovecraft influence is subtle, but unmistakeable. Our cultist seek dark knowledge from forbidden books. They conduct rituals to open doors into other dimensions where horrible things sometimes await. There are almost no name checks to Lovecraft’s creatures (a “Shiggoth” is mentioned), but there are dangerous creatures sparingly used. The horror is in the dread, not the reveal.
Matt Ruff seems to have not been tied to any one genre as an author, and his books have been one-and-done affairs. However, he states in his afterward that he left the ending of “Lovecraft Country” deliberately open. He feels he may have more to write about these characters and in this setting. Therefore, someday we may have some more related tales in print and/or on the small screen.
As per usual, the book is better
I wasn’t a big fan of the show my first pass through, an opinion that seemed to surprise everyone I shared it with. In an attempt to stay open minded I decided to give the book a chance, and I wasn’t disappointed.
I love the structure, the pacing, the characters and the handling of their experiences. The source material as it is would have translated well to a series with more of an American Horror Story handling.
The show on the other hand, (for me) carried a tone I would attribute to modern adaption of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A little campy, exposition heavy, choppy, and left me feeling heavily pandered to in its depiction of nuanced topics. I’ll give it another chance, but ultimately, the book is the superior story in my opinion.
It’s refreshing to see African American characters as diverse, empowered, smart, and in control of their own lives.