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Lovecraft Country

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Horror (2016)
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, twenty-two 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 Atticus’s great grandmother—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 one black family, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.

329 pages, ebook

First published February 16, 2016

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About the author

Matt Ruff

15 books2,243 followers
I was born in New York City in 1965. I decided I wanted to be a fiction writer when I was five years old and spent my childhood and adolescence learning how to tell stories. At Cornell University I wrote what would become my first published novel, Fool on the Hill, as my senior thesis in Honors English. My professor Alison Lurie helped me find an agent, and within six months of my college graduation Fool on the Hill had been sold to Atlantic Monthly Press. Through a combination of timely foreign rights sales, the generous support of family and friends, occasional grant money, and a slowly accumulating back list, I’ve managed to make novel-writing my primary occupation ever since.

My third novel, Set This House in Order, marked a critical turning point in my career after it won the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, a Washington State Book Award, and a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, and helped me secure a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. My fourth novel, Bad Monkeys, also won multiple awards and is being developed as a film, with Margot Robbie attached to star. My sixth novel, Lovecraft Country, has been produced as an HBO series by Misha Green, Jordan Peele, and J.J. Abrams. It will debut on Sunday, August 16.

In 1998 I married my best friend, the researcher and rare-book expert Lisa Gold. We live in Seattle, Washington.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,053 reviews
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
August 28, 2020
***Now a TV series on HBO!***

”The sphere suddenly burst open like an orange turning inside out, dark rind splitting to reveal a wriggling white pulp. Dozens of pale tentacles shot out, wrapping around the man’s limbs, torso, neck, and head, and yanking him forward to be swallowed whole before he could cry out.”

There you are, Mr. Lovecraft.

 photo Lovecraft_zpsathrov0c.jpg
I see you trying to slide out of the frame.

Okay, I picked this book up expecting the pages to be brimming with all those fascinating creatures that came from the demented mind of H. P. Lovecraft, but really, for the most part, the creatures in this novel are more of the human kind. I thought I was in for a mind bending, possibly gorish, pulp fiction treat. Just check out the cool cover. However, the book proved to be not only a book of depth, but a book of social consciousness. The cover may have sold me, but the plot kept me completely enthralled.

Atticus Turner is returning from a stint in Korea, serving his country. His father has gone missing, and he starts the long journey from Florida to Chicago to start looking for him. For me, a trip of that length is just a long journey, but for Atticus, it is more like an odyssey. Because of the fickleness of fate, I was born caucasian, which pretty much allows me to stop and eat wherever I chose, or stay in whatever hotel I want to, or drive down a highway with very little fear of being stopped by the police. Atticus is African-American; still, in 1954, he has to rely on a guide that his uncle published called ”The Safe Negro Travel Guide”. It provides a list to people of color of places that will actually serve them food and places that will allow them to rent a hotel room.

I recently read a book on the baseball player Satchel Paige, and so I was already well aware of the despicable and disheartening way that African-Americans were treated while trying to travel across this country. As to be expected, it was way worse in the South, but there were still issues even in the Northern states. Racism may be cultivated in Southern states, like a birthright, but in the 1950s, a black man could run into it just about anywhere. Yet, once Atticus crosses the Mason/Dixon line, he can’t help but whoop for pleasure, as if he has just survived a storm tossed voyage across an angry sea.

Atticus and and his father, Montrose, had a falling out over his enlistment in the army. Matt Ruff does an excellent job explaining both sides of the argument. Atticus’s father was a Black Panther before there was such a thing as a Black Panther. Atticus doesn’t own the same level of anger at the forces aligned against him as his father does, but circumstances are about to change that may alter his opinion.

It turns out that the Braithwhite family has shackled Montrose in the basement of their grand, New England manor with the hope that Atticus will come to rescue his father. What makes this even more insidious is the Braithwhite family used to own the Turner family, a few generations ago, as slaves.

The Braithwhite family are part of a secret cabal called The Order of the Ancient Dawn. Atticus soon learns that he is important to them, not because he is black, but because he has Braithwhite blood. Wait...hmmm...how could that be? Could it be the Lord of the Manor stuck his willie in Atticus’s great-grandmother? And then condemned his own offspring to a life of slavery? There are so many affronts against morality in this situation that it is difficult to list the actual order of most unethical to least unethical.

Needless to say, things get really, really weird.

One of my favorite sections of the book was titled ”Jekyll in Hyde Park,” where Ruby, an aunt of Atticus’s, has her own run in with Caleb Braithwhite. He offers her a potion that allows her for a time to be a tall, beautiful, confident white woman. The difference from being that woman and the reasonably attractive black woman she really is are like having a lump of coal in one hand and a diamond in the other.

”Now the hand of Henry Jekyll was professional in shape and size. It was large, firm, white, and comely. But the hand which I now saw, clearly enough, in the yellow light of a mid-London morning, lying half shut on the bedclothes, was lean, corded, knuckly, of a dusky pallor and thickly shaded with a swart growth of hair. It was the hand of Edward Hyde.”

Ahhh, I love Stevenson.

The stories are all interconnected as we learn more about the Braithwhite family and their long association and obsession with the Turner family. There is magic, and other worlds, and nightmares, and dreamscapes, all with the overall arching theme of the world of Lovecraft and pulp novels.

 photo Lovecraft20Oscars_zpsw7q2bzk1.jpg
Lovecraft as Oscar

I did think to myself that Matt Ruff might have also been making some commentary on the controversy of the Lovecraft image being the Oscar of the World Fantasy Awards. We have discovered much about Lovecraft, and the more we learn, the more tarnished his image becomes. He was an unapologetic racist and misogynist. Past winners of the World Fantasy Award must have to buff the blackening from the head of his statue quite often.

If you want to continue enjoying Lovecraft’s fiction and his truly outrageously creative mind, I would suggest not reading too much about the actual man. This book is an ode to pulp novels, but also a very revealing book about all aspects of what it was like to be a person of color in the 1950s, trying to survive a “Lovecraft Country” that was intent on disrupting their attempts to have lives of substance.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,928 reviews10.6k followers
August 1, 2016
Lovecraft Country is a collection of inter-connected stories about an extended African American family in the mid to late 1940's and their encounters with things not of this world, notably sorcerers, a gateway to another world, and a haunted house.

Holy. Shit. Lovecraft Country is an early front-runner for the best book I've read in 2016. Here's how it all went down.

Lovecraft Country is the story of the Green/Turner family, an African American family trying to make ends meet in the Jim Crow era. Matt Ruff does a great job of contrasting the cosmic horror of the Lovecraft mythos with the everyday horrors of racism and ignorance. I loved how each story used Lovecraft staples as a starting point and interjected a member or two of the Turner family.

The ages-long connection between the Turners and the Braithwaites was very well done. For an evil mastermind, Caleb Braithwaite was a well-drawn character, far from the scene chewing villain he could have been. The magic system was well done and true to the tale's Lovecraftian roots. The Turners were capable but not superhuman by any means.

Honestly, I can't think of anything bad to say about this book. It hit all the right buttons for me. It has the momentum of a collection of pulp yarns but the writing is far superior to most stories of this kind and the Jim Crow era setting and the well drawn characters set it several notches above most books of this type.

Five out of five stars. Good luck impressing me after this, next book.
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,201 reviews40.7k followers
May 3, 2023
After becoming addicted to the tv series, I couldn’t help myself and purchased the book to see how the book’s adaptation improved.

Of course the original book is a little different from the HBO adaptation. It is a great mash up of pulp fiction-science fiction-horror-dark comedy- thriller-action genres with realistic, dark criticism of racism: a bunch of stories with different characters of Turner family encounter with the same epic villain Caleb Braithwaite.

The stories take place at mid to late 40s at Jim Crow era. And it starts with Atticus Turner’s story ( just like the series did) who recently served his country in Korea and his journey from Florida to Chicago to find his missing father by following the published guide to keep him safe from any trouble named “Safe Negro Travel Guide”!!!!That guide recommends the hotels he can be allowed to stay during his travel.

He and his father had a fall out before he went to Korea. His father is more radical, determined to fight against injustice and racism and disapproves his son’s decision to fight for the country where he has never been respected. (His father might be one of the founders of Black Panther)

Atticus finds out his father’s whereabouts: he might be kept as prisoner in a New England Manor owned by Braithwaite family. Well, as soon as he arrives at the haunted manor, he will find out nothing as it seems and there are some dark secrets will come out that connect the both families.

It’s a fast pacing, action packed reading consist a great harmony of different genres and genuine, important messages about intolerance, darkest and most shameful ugly face of racism. After reading it, I get more excited to see new episodes of the series.

Lovecraft is well known dark mastermind of horror stories and it’s memorable blood freezing, eerie, dark creatures. I always like to differentiate an author’s works and his or her true self, political opinions. Of course his racial opinions were truly disturbing which I truly irritated them but let’s not forget about his unique contributions to the horror genre. As a person we are free to detest him. But it shouldn’t stop us to show respect to his works. It’s obvious that he couldn’t achieve to be open minded and objective person throughout his life journey but we can broaden our horizons by seeing things from different people’s perspectives.

Overall: I enjoyed these multi layered characters, head spinning harmony of genres and powerful messages of the stories. Highly recommended to the bookworms who can appreciate real good taste of literature.
Profile Image for Sr3yas.
223 reviews997 followers
April 14, 2018
❝ From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent.❞
-------- H. P. Lovecraft-------

Do you know what the irony here is?

Despite the supernatural elements like black magic, haunted houses, mysterious coven and nameless realms which populate this tale, the real horrors that haunt these pages are the injustices of Jim Crow era; The blind racism which raged through Uncle Sam like a wildfire consuming lives, proving once again that It's not the ghosts you need to fear, but the man himself.

Oh, one another thing.

H.P. Lovecraft: The man who captivated the imagination of millions of readers with his unsettling mythos and entrancing writings. He was also a racist who never shied away from showing it. The irony here is naming this book after him even though the story hardly has anything to do with Lovecraft or his mythos. I was actually chuckling at the fact that yet another book exists with Lovecraft's name where the heroes are African-Americans.

Lovecraft must be glaring at Matt Ruff from abyss ever since the publication of this book!

(Bonus Irony: Using Lovecraft's own quote as the lead-in to this review. 10 points to me!)

The shadow over Chicago.

The story is set in the mid-50's; We are introduced to an array of characters, notably Atticus Turner, his father Montrose, Monrose's brother George & his family and Letitia & Ruby, two sisters living in Chicago.

The story begins with a road trip to find Atticus's father, who went missing while he was trying to find out about his wife's ancestry. As Atticus, Letitia and George enter an odd locality to find him, they are introduced to unimaginable wonders and *horrors rituals that set off events which put their life and their family's life inside a dark and complex web of power struggles.

(*They can imagine all sorts of horror. They were African-Americans living in the 50's)

Despite being billed as a horror story, this is a surprisingly fun read. The story is episodic in nature, each chapter focusing on one event and a set of interconnected characters, which finally leads to a grand finale.

I loved the structure of the story and the situations presented in it. But the best parts are undoubtedly the excellent characterization of the cast, their rich dialogues and naturalistic portrayal of racism.

This is neither a horror read nor a Lovecraftian one. The story is closer to urban fantasy and adventure genre and it is very very exciting. The characters are very likable (Even our anti-hero is too damn likable) and the stories are filled with memorable moments.

Highly recommended.
“But you love these stories!” Atticus said. “You love them as much as I do!”

“I do love them,” George agreed. “But stories are like people, Atticus. Loving them doesn’t make them perfect. You try to cherish their virtues and overlook their flaws. The flaws are still there, though.”
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.5k followers
August 19, 2020

This is a difficult book for me to review. I think I love it in spite of itself. Or maybe I love it in spite of stuffy old me.

You see, if I filled out a checklist of what I like in a novel, Lovecraft Country wouldn’t get many checks. The prose itself isn’t much (no spare elegance, no stylistic flourishes); the characters, though amiable, lack depth and definition; the plot is rambling, episodic, and not all that interesting in itself; and, although it’s got the name Lovecraft in the title, the supernatural element of the book isn’t really scary at all.

So don’t read it, right? Wrong!

Lovecraft Country is the story of Atticus Turner and his family, a bunch of bookish, nerdy African Americans—including one would-be comic book artist/writer, one would-be astronomer, one science fiction fan, and one publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—who live in Chicago in the 1950’s. In the course of a road trip to find missing father Montrose, the Turners experience all the challenges of a racist America (Jim Crow, “sunset towns,” vicious local sheriffs, etc.) only to discover along the way that they have a sinister connection to the Braithwhites, a family of white wizards—not Klu Klux Klan wizards, the devil-summoning kind—residing in an obscure part of Massachusetts. It seems the Braithwhites have plans for Atticus and his family,and they are very evil plans indeed.

Ruff writes a fast moving, energetic prose which catches and keeps your attention, and fills his book with varied incidents and frequent changes of scenery. His characters, although not deep, are extremely likable, and he makes us care about their fates. Although the book’s occult elements aren’t terrifying—not even very suspenseful—the descriptions of racist America in all its ‘50’s glory are horrific. Ruff has done his historical research well, and he presents us with an America filled with obstacles and fraught with danger for every person of color.

The real miracle of the book, though, is that Ruff manages to accomplish all this with both lightness and reverence, fashioning an adventure saga about Black Americans confronting a racist world without a hint of liberal tentativeness or lofty condescension. Lovecraft Country is a work of cultural appreciation, not appropriation, and is also an excellent adventure novel too.

There’s a great moment near the end of Lovecraft Country when the wizard Braithwhite tries to threaten the Turners, and the entire clan roars at him with laughter.
”What?” Braithwhite shouted, looking at them as if they were crazy. “What’s so funny?” But for a long while they were laughing too hard to answer.

“Oh, Mr. Braithwhite,” Atticus said finally, wiping tears from his eyes. “What is it you’re trying to scare me with? You think I don’t know what country I live in? I know. We all do. We always have. You’re the one who doesn’t understand.”
Profile Image for Johann (jobis89).
643 reviews4,264 followers
July 14, 2020
“But stories are like people, Atticus. Loving them doesn't make them perfect. You try to cherish their virtues and overlook their flaws. The flaws are still there, though.”

Lovecraft Country is a perfect example of how expectations can really dampen a reading experience. My expectation was a Lovecraftian novel that also delved into and explored Lovecraft’s despicable racism, but what I got instead was a series of loosely connected stories that didn’t tick any real Lovecraftian boxes. Lovecraft references does not a Lovecraftian book make. Perhaps this was my mistake for thinking this book was something that it’s not, but I was quite disappointed.

What makes it more disappointing was that the potential was there. The opening of the book had my attention - a black man navigating through Jim Crow America, with his guidebook for where black people could travel safely. It’s truly harrowing to read about, I ended up falling down a rabbit hole researching the Jim Crow laws. But once the book diverges off into a series of short stories, I really lost my enthusiasm.

There were little flashes where I thought “YES. This is what I was hoping for!” An example being the haunted house in a white neighbourhood - what an excellent opportunity to use a horror trope as a metaphor for racism. But it never felt fully fleshed out to me. On a positive note, there was also a little story that felt incredibly Bradbury-esque - that was a highlight!

My rating has dropped slightly as I’ve thought about my issues with the novel, but it’s still an entertaining read. I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from picking it up, it’s just a case of it not living up to my personal expectations. I honestly think Jordan Peele will deliver more of what I was looking for in the upcoming tv adaptation - fingers crossed! 2.5 stars.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,891 reviews1,923 followers
November 9, 2021
Rating: 4* of five

I voted for this book in the 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards. I reviewed Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff BAD MONKEYS not long ago, in preparation for reading this book. That was a three-plus star read, mostly for the sheer audacity of the ending, and I do love me a twisty ending.

This book gets four glowing platinum stars because, from giddy-up to whoa, there is no let-up in the wildly inventive excitement blasting from Ruff's imagination/fire hose. Not a moment when things slack off, not a corner left unscoured for dramatic (and amusing, lots of in-jokes of which nothing is made because enough that they're there) possibilities. And let me step outside the fiction's pleasures for a moment and say that this treatment of the vileness that is racism is both inventive and appropriate. For that reason alone, and there are plenty of others, this book merits your vote in the Goodreads Choice Awards.

Why not five? Because ending. Ending okayness after this wild trip? Hmph. Gimme more. You have before, Mr. Ruff, and if ever a tale deserved a slam-bang ending it's this one.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,971 followers
July 23, 2020
Re-read, 7/22/20:

I'm going to go ahead and give it another star. It's really holding its own for me and enjoyed it, even more, the second time. Ah, the Great White hope, indeed.

F*** this S***.


Suffice to say, the '50s racism, if it was even half as bad as it is portrayed here, still seems rather freaking familiar as the kind we have today. Without the riots OR the solidarity, of course.

Original review:

There are two ways that I enjoyed this novel.

The first was the racism angle and the happy ending despite all the horrible things that happen in this tale and against blacks in the good-ole-boy country in 50's 'murica. Racism, enslavement on multiple levels, the desire to try on another skin, all of it was both a repudiation of fantasy and pulp fiction's other skewed-ness way from black heroes. This novel dealt with the issues head-on and I liked it. :)

The second was how the novel was also a huge sample-dish of horror tropes, a love story to cultists, sorcerers, well-researched secret societies, evil doll tropes, tentacles, paranoia, haunted houses, and so much more. The author knows his shit. Lovecraft? Sure, but think of a slightly milder take, not quite attempting to draw us deeper and deeper into the depths of awe-turned-horror, but skipping us across strangeness to strangeness across the entire tale, sampling a bit of each dish while focusing more on character-journeys that don't quite make them go insane or get pulled into other dimensions or get eaten by non-euclidian geometries.

This is an anti-racist funhouse of horrors. :)

Of course, if you are subject to racism, yourself, you might just fall into this tale and call it a novel of pure horror, but at least you can rest assured that there will be a happy ending. :)
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Tim.
476 reviews616 followers
May 22, 2020
Forgive me for going with an obvious joke, but to re-phrase a Hunter S. Thompson quote:

"We can't stop here! This is Lovecraft Country!"

In this case, what is Lovecraft Country? Well, from a typical trope standpoint, Lovecraft Country is a twisted version of rural New England, where a good portion of author H. P. Lovecraft's fiction took place. It's a place where monsters lurked, where horror reigns supreme, where the world is uncaring and indifferent to your suffering.

In other words, very much like 1950s America if you were not white.

This book follows an African American surviving in Jim Crow era America. They face racism, prejudice and horror, some of which happens to come from supernatural entities.

While this book is stated to be a novel, it really feels more like a short story collection, where all the stories just happen to be connected. As such I will do my typical short story collection review, and give a mini-review for each story.

Lovecraft Country - Easily the most "Lovecraftian" story in the collection. The sense of being in a world out of your control was felt heavily here, but despite the underground sorcerer club presented, the real threat really was the reality of the world around our characters. The sheriff they run into on the road was a more frighting figure than anything supernatural. 4/5 stars.

Dreams of the Which House - Your classic haunted house story, but again the sense that the real world horrors are worse than the supernatural. After all, the ghost here was threatening, but compare that to the neighbors. 4/5 stars

Abdullah's Book - I loved this story. It's really not the best from a "horror" stand point, but it feels the most like a pulp adventure story. I mean, it's a museum heist to steal a magic book, filled with Indian Jones-like traps. This story is just fun, and filled with humor. That's not to say it is without merit from an analysis standpoint, you'll note that Abdullah's book is in the title, not the one they are actually out to steal. 4/5 stars

Hippolyta Disturbs the Universe - My least favorite in the collection. Not bad by any means, but personally the least interesting. I liked the "twist" (what was in the box), but the most interesting aspect to me was the history of the discovery of Pluto discussed at the start. 3/5 stars

Jekyll in Hyde Park - Honestly, I started this one thinking it would be my least favorite. I'm not a fan of "body swap" stories, and I had a pretty good clue as to the twist here. While some aspects of this were interesting (Ruff did a really good job showing Ruby's different experiences) where this story really worked for me was the party at the end. It gave us more insight into Braithwhite and made him one of the more interesting villains I've read in some time. He really does come off as the charming devil figure, able to offer temptations for a price and always multiple steps ahead. 4/5 stars

The Narrow House - The most depressing story in the collection in my opinion. We really are getting two tales here, the story of the inhabitants of the house and Montrose revising the worst night of his life. The story made his past actions more relatable, and also gave a pretty good insight into his past interactions with Atticus. 3.5/5 stars

Horace and the Devil Doll - I was wondering if we would get into police relations, and as uncomfortable as a topic as it is, I'm glad we did. What's scarier; your classic devil doll, or a police force that is actively out to get you? 3/5 stars

The Mark of Cain - Honestly don't have much to say about this one from an analysis standpoint. A satisfactory conclusion and I like how it retied the stories all together. 4/5 stars

You'll note, all the ratings are pretty high to middle ground. There is not a single bad story in this book, and viewed together they make a wonderful tale. I loved that as a whole this was an examination of race in horror overall, not just Lovecraft (who sadly was a racist, and not in a "fair for his day" sort of way, but an outright racist even at the time). We got several classics stories (haunted houses, body swaps, evil dolls and so on) reexamined with this idea in mind. I liked how Ruff played with the Lovecraftian horror sense of a world that doesn't care about it's protagonists and constant hopelessness, but here showing that as the everyday life of these people. What can the monsters possibly add that life in Jim Crow America hasn't already thrown at them?

Finally, the sense of humor was very much appreciated. Honestly, without it, this one would have been a tough read. The real world aspects are so consistently worse than the horror aspects, making it even bleaker, which is a sad statement on the world.

One last thing before I go, I've seen several modern authors tackle Lovecraft's racism (it's one of the things pretty much guaranteed in any Lovecraft-spin today). It's not hard to see why. He's one of the most celebrated horror authors for a reason. His work was hugely influential and some of the tales genuinely frighting. Even today he has a huge fan base, but many fans struggle with this. Is it appropriate to still like his fiction, despite the fact that in real life he was a colossal asshole? Well, the book tries to address this directly.

“But stories are like people, Atticus. Loving them doesn’t make them perfect. You try to cherish their virtues and overlook their flaws. The flaws are still there, though. "

"But you don’t get mad. Not like Pop does."

"No, that’s true, I don’t get mad. Not at stories. They do disappoint me sometimes." He looked at the shelves. "Sometimes, they stab me in the heart”

4/5 stars.

My personal rankings of the stories (from best to worst):

Dreams of the Which House
Jekyll in Hyde Park
Lovecraft Country
Abdullah's Book
The Mark of Cain
The Narrow House
Horace and the Devil Doll
Hippolyta Disturbs the Universe
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
996 reviews1,132 followers
November 10, 2020
This book hurt me even more this time than it did when I first read it three years ago. In a good, necessary way. It is the kind of speculative fiction work that does an incredible job of changing a reader's perspective, that makes them think about things in an entirely different way, and shines a light on things you didn't know you needed to see.

Maybe it's even more affective this time around because I have read a ton of James Baldwin and read up on sundown towns and the Tulsa massacre since my first go with this book, but my brain is now equipped with more information to contextualize Atticus and Letitia's stories.

This book acknowledges that some stories will have a hold on our imagination forever, that you can love them even if you know they come from a rotten place, and that no monster will ever be as scary as people can be when they have hate in their hearts.


I remember an early episode of "Supernatural", in which the Winchester brothers have to deal with a family of rednecks who hunt, torture and kill humans for sport. Dean finds a Mason jar filled with human teeth in their cottage, and he says something like: "Demons, I get. But this?! This is messed up!". I couldn't agree more with him: monsters and weird creatures from the beyond are scary, but their motivations are relatively easy to figure out: they want your blood, your soul or perhaps your skull. Human cruelty, however, is something that completely defies my understanding.

This might be what makes "Lovecraft Country" work as well as it does. We get the wonderful and spooky creature H.P. spawned with his mind, but we can also see them contrasted with some of the things humans did to each other and have to wonder: which is scarier? Which is worse? Which would I rather have to deal with?

Atticus Turner is a veteran, freshly returned from Korea. He gets a cryptic message from his father Montrose, asking him to meet him in his hometown of Chicago because he found something about Atticus' mother's ancestry that he needs to tell him. But when Atticus gets to Chicago, his father has disappeared, leaving behind clues that he might be somewhere in New England. Together with his science-fiction loving uncle George and his childhood friend Letitia, Atticus decides to go find his father.

George is the publisher of "The Safe Negro Travel Guide", a book listing gas stations, restaurants, hotels and shops across the country that will welcome black customers - because in the era of Jim Crow, the open American road is still not safe for everyone to travel. Atticus, George and Letitia follow Montrose's trail to the manor of Samuel Braithwhite, the leader of a strange group called the Order of the Ancient Dawn. It soon becomes obvious to Atticus that his father was merely bait: he is what these men want, in order to fulfill an occult goal they have been working on for over a hundred years.

It is a rare book that brings together the fun of pulp and the thought-provoking insight of a writer with a strong social consciousness. It's no secret that the more we dig up on dear Mr. Lovecraft, the more he turns out to have been a huge bigot; I know many fans of his work who don't really know how to process this, bringing up once again the age old debate of separating the individual from their body of work. Matt Ruff took what I've always loved about Lovecraftian horror and put it in a brand new light, by pairing them with more mundane horrors: the dangers of driving the roads when the police officers are hostile, the impossibility of buying and retaining property without risking your life, the enticing possibility of stepping through the looking-glass... Each chapter is a short story, but they only work as a continued narrative: each story focuses on one member of Atticus' family and how both the eldritch and day-to-day horrors of the world knock them about. This story takes place in an America that is not as far back in the rearview mirror as we would like to think and the characters are good, flawed people, frustrated by the daily injustices they struggle with. They have to summon a great deal of cleverness and determination to face the Order.

It must be noted that Ruff is quite a sci-fi/fantasy erudite himself: right off from the beginning, there are references not only to Lovecraft, but to other amazing authors such as Bradbury, Heinlein, Stevenson and other masters. Just the sort of stuff to make a genre fiction lover such as myself feel all excited to keep reading.

A lot of books about racial prejudices have made their way into my library lately. Am I reacting to the bigoted political climate that has been making headlines over the past few months? I don't know, but it is definitely something that is weighing on my mind these days. "Lovecraft Country" now sits next to my Octavia Butler books and just like her work, I can't recommend it enough. An eye-opening wink to a great story teller (who was not a very nice guy), beautifully executed.


I watched the TV show adaptation of this book on HBO, and I enjoyed it, but with reservations. The pacing of the first few episodes is all over the place, and they made some changes to the plot and the characters (and I've been thinking about it, and I get why they did it, it was important to let those characters talk about their experiences beyond what was on the page). That said, it's visually stunning, the music is fantastic (if occasionally anachronistic) and Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett's performances are amazing. Definitely worth checking out.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,484 reviews29.4k followers
June 15, 2017
I'm between 2.5 and 3 stars, but I rounded up because I'm a Matt Ruff fan from way back.

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.

See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,868 reviews16.5k followers
October 3, 2017
H.P. Lovecraft, like many of his time (1890-1937) was by today’s standards, a racist.

His ideas about “inferior” races comes across in many of his stories in varying degrees. Most readers of his work cite The Horror at Red Hook as the low point of this element of his canon. That paranoid and prejudiced story reveals in Lovecraft a viewpoint of “us and them” that goes beyond isolationist philosophy and may shed light on motives for the eldritch, dark themes of his writing.

Many writers since, though, have taken up his occult subjects and ran with them, creating the sub-genre of fantasy / horror now known collectively as “Lovecraftian”. Lovecraft was, like all of us, a mixed bag of good and bad, pluses and minuses, successes and failures. Like Philip K. Dick and an unfortunate crowd of writers over the centuries, Lovecraft’s success came largely after his death. Those influenced by him have taken his gloomy inspiration and created Lovecraftian works that continue to entertain and scare readers today.

Matt Ruff’s 2016 work Lovecraft Country, pays homage to Lovecraft’s arcane work while also casting a satirical tone on the racial elements of Lovecraft’s work and protesting those elements in an entertaining and provocative novel.

Members of an African-American family in the 1950s encounter and engage Lovecraftian components in a tale that Lovecraft himself would likely not have written. Readers follow along to encounter secret societies, ancient allegiances and occult magic. More than this, though, Ruff uses the Lovecraftian themes to describe racism in our society, and history, to be the real horror, far more scary than something old HP could invent.

Reminiscent of Victor la Valle’s excellent 2016 novella The Ballad of Black Tom, this takes more time to get where it's going and the narrative quality of Ruff’s message is diluted with too much over the top commentary. Whereas La Valle’s work is a fast and exciting story that delivers an anti-racial message couched in a good story, Ruff’s work is more ambitious but struggles under its own weight.

Profile Image for Jessica Sullivan.
518 reviews428 followers
September 1, 2016
Being a fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction means also having to face the uncomfortable truth that Lovecraft the man was an unabashed racist and xenophobe. Needless to say, I was thrilled to come across Lovecraft Country, which promised to confront this head on, employing Lovecraftian tropes as a vehicle for examining race and racism in 1950s America.

It’s such an exciting premise, but it just didn’t deliver in quite the way that I had hoped. The story follows 22-year-old Atticus Turner and his family, who discover that they are inextricably linked to a secret organization that harnesses occult powers.

Unfortunately, I had a hard time ever finding a rhythm. The book hops around to different narratives without enough focus on character development, which left me feeling disconnected and uninvested. Rather than fully exploring the many moral complexities at his disposal, Ruff instead delivers a convoluted plot that’s arguably more of an homage to Scooby Doo or The DaVinci Code than Lovecraft.

I loved his idea of applying the cosmic existential dread at the heart of Lovecraft’s stories to the terror of being black in Jim Crow America, but the story lacked the awe and atmospheric tension that one would expect from a Lovecraft tribute. If I’m being honest, there really wasn’t any narrative tension at all.

Such a great concept, but such lackluster execution. If I were rating it purely on the premise alone (and for that AMAZING cover art), it would be a 5-star book, but alas, a stellar premise does not make a great book.
Profile Image for carol..
1,535 reviews7,874 followers
December 5, 2021
I had heard this was a collection of short stories, so I went into it with fair expectations, I think. There's an interesting blend of Lovecraft and race awareness that sort of works, but sort of doesn't. I think I 100% felt more anxious and concerned about the race-based conflicts than any supernatural ones. Which is, after all, no doubt what Ruff intended: just like in the zombie apocalypse, it's always the other people that are the most dangerous. Still, despite expecting shorts, something about most of them felt more fragmented and less complete than I wanted. Part of it is because the 'action' is usually equally distributed between the race conflicts and the Lovecraftian/otherworldly ones.

Lovecraft Country --titular story is the longest, and yet it felt like it wandered too much to be a self-sufficient story. It begins with ex-soldier Atticus heading to Chicago and experiencing disturbing--but not unexpected--racist incidents on the way. A note left from his father, Montrose, and rumors of a mysterious white man and a black sedan sends Atticus and his uncle haring off after his dad. His uncle and his wife are the creators and publishers of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, a great concept that's generally integrated well into the story.

Dreams of the Which House --a haunted house and disturbing neighbors.
Abdullah's Book --Adventures in solving a puzzle in a hidden room.
Hippolyta Disturbs the Universe--Hippolyta, amateur astronomer. I liked this one.
Jekyll in Hyde Park --all about Ruby. This one was deeply disturbing and thought-provoking and one of the better examinations of systemic racism, as well as Cain's role in all their lives.
The Narrow House--Bainwaithe's ex-partner's child.
Horace and the Devil Doll--the son, Henry
The Mark of Cain--bringing it all together

It's an interesting collection. Does is gestalt as well as Ruff would like? Maybe not. Does it set the Lovecraftian mythos on it's side? Not really. But it does a really fascinating job integrating racial consciousness into the story. However, for the most part, the pattern of discrimination is overtly racist law enforcement or housing-adjacent neighbors, and not the more insidious kinds of racism that go unchallenged around us every day. It isn't until the stories of both Hippolyta and Ruby (in 'Jekyll') that Ruff integrates a little more of educational racism as well as aspects of race in desire and access.

Three and a half stars, rounding up because of the women's stories
Profile Image for Auntie Terror.
417 reviews102 followers
April 23, 2020
There are many things that took me by surprise with this book, first and foremost: the style of story-telling.
I had expected a classical novel with a more or less (after all, this is meant to be "Lovecraftian") straight line towards a catastrophe. What I read was a collection of Lovecraft-inspired short stories which supplied little dots you could connect to form a central story. Some of these stories played out longer and in more (unimportant) detail than would have been necessary, I feel. Also, the writing was a lot more humourous than I anticipated - which wasn't a bad thing, only an unexpected element to the mix of Lovecraftian elements and racism criticism.

There are, as I have mentioned, Lovecraft elements such as doors between worlds across the universe, shapeless horrors haunting the shadows and covens of (elderly) white men trying to summon powers they don't seem to fully understand. But they don't supply the horrid and terrifying bits - that is wholly achieved by the disgusting racism the group of main chacarters encounters at every turn in a not so distant past in the US. Jim Crow definitely beats old Shoggoth in horror and ugliness here.
This book being set in the rural South of the US in the 1950s offers ways to show the effects of racism that wouldn't be plausible if the story was set in a contemporary US. While racism is still a problem there today (as in the whole world, actually and sadly), the discrimination against and segregation of people of colour in general and black people in particular is no longer written down as official state law. While people of colour still have to worry a lot more about being pulled over by cops than white people, at least the cop can no longer pull them over legally on the grounds of their skin colour and the time of day (or night, as happens to the characters in the book). Of course, the racism shown in the book reflects back on the reality of today, but the exact way racism influences Ruff's story development in his setting of the 1950s wouldn't be credible today. He'd have to tell certain aspects differently, in the same way an author telling a story the development of which is influenced by the presence of antisemitism in Germany would have to present incidents of antisemitism differently, depending on whether they set the story in contemporary Germany, 1930s Germany or medieval Germany. Antisemitism was there, sadly, in all these time periods - but the outward form it was legally allowed to take would differ greatly.

By presenting the incidents of racism as he does, Ruff enables the reader to draw the obvious conclusion that racism is absolutely wrong, and also stupid. What annoyed me at times was the schoolmasterly tone employed on top of that: "And this, kids, is why racism is bad." This just isn't necessary and might even hurt the valid point he's making because people in general are a lot less likely to consider a proposition or opinion as correct if the person presenting it gives them the feeling they think the audience is just too stupid to get it if it isn't spelt for them letter by letter. Neither Colson Whitehead in The Underground Railroad nor Jodi Picoult in Small Great Things felt the need to spell it out for their readers, and still I can't imagine anyone with even half a braincell to read the first and think "awww, the good old times in the US South" or to read the second and think "yes, of course it's right to drag that nurse to court, I wish she'd been found guilty". Both authors show instead of telling, and trust their readers to be enough of a human being to still get it.

Still, the book is a good and surprisingly fun read despite the serious issue of racism underlying the whole plot.
Profile Image for Jenny Lawson.
Author 9 books17.2k followers
September 10, 2020
Terrifying, poignant, funny, infuriating. A strange combination that works.
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,030 reviews2,604 followers
May 9, 2016
4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2016/05/09/...

Lovecraft Country was not what I expected, but it was a good kind of different. I’ve never read Matt Ruff before and only know of him by his reputation of being a cult novelist, and perhaps I thought I was going to be in for a pulpy horror read, considering the title and the cover. It turned out to be all that, plus a lot more substance.

Told in a series of interconnected short stories that form an overall bigger narrative, much of this book takes place in the 1950s following the lives of several members of a black family who find themselves entangled with a cabal of sorcerers in “Lovecraft Country”—a term that has more to do with the rampant racism in that part of the US at the time, rather than the Lovecraftian horror subgenre.

The novel begins with the title story. After serving his country, Atticus Turner returns home to Florida to find that his father Montrose has gone missing, prompting a road trip to Chicago to find out what happened. Soon, his journey brings him to New England with his uncle George and a childhood friend named Letitia. Together, they discover that Montrose has been captured and held prisoner by the Order of the Ancient Dawn, a secret society led by the enigmatic sorcerer named Samuel Braithwhite. Trapped at the estate, Atticus and his family are ultimately rescued by Braithwhite’s son, Caleb.

It turns out, however, that Caleb may have his own agenda. Through the rest of the stories in book, we’re introduced to the other characters in Atticus’ extended family and circle of friends. Each section of the novel is a tale of a supernatural encounter with the Order of the Ancient Dawn or Caleb Braithwhite, who has remained in the shadows, hounding their every step.

There are definitely plenty of Lovecraftian themes in this book, which is what initially led me to pick this up. But while the hallmarks of cosmic horror and paranormal elements abound, that’s not what really disturbed me. The thing you should know about Lovecraft Country is that it takes place in an era where racial segregation and Jim Crow laws are still very much alive, and Ruff’s depictions of the terrible ways African Americans were treated back then are as stomach-churning as you would expect. If the characters react pragmatically in the face of the supernatural horrors and cosmic creatures in this book, well, maybe that’s because the dangers they have to deal with in the real world are a lot worse in many ways. Violence and abuse fueled by racism, ignorance and hate is something that hangs over them every single moment of their lives, coming from monsters that are all too human.

To be sure though, there are also strange events and unseen monsters lurking at every turn, and I thought Lovecraft Country was an intriguing, creative blend of pulp horror with social commentary. The speculative elements made this one a fun read, but the story also made me reflect upon the deeper themes the like identity and history, how both have a hand in shaping a society and the people who live in it. It’s a very “connected” novel, and I don’t simply mean the way it’s structured so that the book reads more like a collection of related short stories with multiple character arcs instead of just the one traditional plotline, because all the themes and ideas in the individual sections come together in the end to form a cohesive whole as well.

Speaking of the structure though, I wasn’t expecting the short story format when I picked this up, and I admit I was initially thrown off by the frequent transitions. Even though this book is not your typical collection, it still has a few of the same issues, mainly that some stories are better than others. Not all of them captured my attention the same way and I fell into a lull with one or two, but that’s probably the only criticism I have for this book. As with most anthologies and collection-type books, not all the stories will have the same quality or appeal to me the same way.

Audiobook comments: Finally, I want to mention that I listened to the audio edition of Lovecraft Country. It is narrated by Kevin Kenerly, who did a great job bringing the all the different characters to life. Though, it feels kind of like a missed opportunity that they didn’t get an additional reader or two on board, since multi-narrator productions are pretty common these days for anthology/short story collection audiobooks that feature stories with way more than just one central character. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Kenerly’s excellent performance. If I had to do it all over again though, I might have opted for the print version, or even read/listened to the print/audio versions in tandem, because some of the stories in here definitely required more time to digest. Audiobooks are not exactly well suited to frequent pauses mid-chapter to reflect, but I still very much enjoyed my experience in this format.
Profile Image for Ioana.
274 reviews349 followers
February 28, 2016
An absolutely visceral description of experienced racism, and a powerful allegory of institutional racism in the US, set in first half of the 20th century US. Also, a most impressive creative rendering and inversion of H. P. Lovecraft's (racist & misogynist) work.

Lovecraft Country blew me away. I can't remember the last time I read a book that was so complex and so ... connected-each theme, each arc, each character so compelling in their own right, but also so clearly coherent and related to others in the context of the whole. This book gives new meaning to the adage, "the whole is larger than the sum of its parts".

First, the characters are so empathetically drawn. And I don't mean sympathetically, which would imply pity or some other emotion that would be akin to a patronizing tone. I mean, we are drawn into their experiences through poignant descriptions of external events, not through an analysis of the characters' emotions, in such a way that we are called on to imagine their emotions. And, of course, this is itself an emotive, not purely cognitive experience.

A more concrete example: the novel opens with a man, Atticus, driving home. He is stopped and harassed by a cop. He has to use a restroom but he is turned away from public ones reserved for whites, and so he takes a moment on the highway in the bushes. He then worries about which roads to take, because on some, he will certainly meet violence. He consults a publication he hangs on to for dear life, "The Safe Negro Travel Guide", to locate a place he can sleep the night, otherwise he will have to do so in his car. No preaching from Ruff, no philosophizing, but still, the reader is right there with/ as Atticus, and one can't help but feel the absolute despair/ anger at the injustice/ compliance/ resistance/ silencing effect of the situation. He's just trying to get home, what the hell...

Second, the structure of Lovecraft Country is brilliant and works so well to both convey the story and to mirror its message. The novel consists of interconnected stories, all featuring the same cast of (~12) characters, the ancestors of a black family and of their previous white "owners". Each of these stories is fascinating in its own right, and offers a "twist" on Lovecraftian lore- there is metamorphposis (a potion that can turn a black person white), time-travel (to distant planets, on which blacks have been exiled), hunted houses (with ghosts "tamed" and befriended by a determined black woman who moves in and refuses to be deterred by ghosts from the past), nightmares that reflect past horrors not experienced by the dreamer but by his ancestors (lynchings), and more. Throughout it all, it soon becomes clear that the "monsters" Ruff conjures are only mirrors or incarnations of racism -both "personal" and institutionalized.

The broader arc that ties these narratives together is the relationship between the characters, especially that between the ancestors of the slave-owners and of the former slaves. In true Lovecraftian style, there are lodges of power-hungry whites eager to use the black family (who are in fact descendants of the slave-owners as well as those of slaves) for their own ends. And, although in each story, it seems as if the black family only comes out unscathed due to the protection of one of these white men, in the end it is their prioritization of family and relationships that prevails, even over their patronizing "protector". So, as each vignette is a reflection of the particulars and manifestations of racism, the grander arc is an indictment of systemic racism.

HIGHLY Recommended!
Profile Image for Montzalee Wittmann.
4,559 reviews2,312 followers
October 8, 2020
This book is certainly a great! Someday a classic!

Lovecraft County by Matt Ruff is set in the time of the Jim Crow deepest times. We follow a couple of black families and through their adventures we as readers experience the horrors of that time. There is magic, spells, warlocks, and more included which make up most of the adventure. Other adventures have horrors of the redneck kind. Mixing the monsters of both worlds, and beyond, really works! This author made it a page turner, unforgettable, and entertaining. Totally loved it. I can see why it was on HBO, too bad I don't have HBO!
134 reviews28 followers
May 29, 2016
What a great premise! Matt Ruff is on to something that's definitely needed. But this isn't it (or at least what I was hoping for; admittedly I came at this with high hopes - not very Lovecraftian!). What we needed was a Lovecraftian story that directly takes on and subverts that author's vehemently racist views - a kind of magical ritual to exorcise the genre of the most troubling element of Lovecraft's fiction (or at least call forth its tentacled mass for an autopsy). What we get is a book that does provide some powerful looks at racism, but does so in a simple, morally uncomplicated way, while also failing (possibly intentionally?) to present any actual Lovecraftian horror beyond a light superficially pulpy set dressing. This is a shame, because some of the themes underlying Lovecraft's tales - existential alienation, dread - might be also be interestingly tied into the experience of living in/being trapped in a racist society.

The book gets part of it right - it does take on Jim Crow era racism (in the South and North) and puts the reader in the proper state of paranoia and dread African Americans must have felt (and still feel on occasion) knowing they can be stopped and lose control of their lives at any moment. So here is the dread - not in a sublime, existential-crisis-inspiring creature, but in navigating a world where you know everything can be taken from you at any moment on the slightest of pretenses (or no pretense at all). So this could be the point - that there's nothing to fear from the supernatural, and that these elements are intentionally toned down to show that the real horror, the real dread, is all around us. But, I don't think that's the intent, and even if that's the case, the book unnecessarily wastes an opportunity to actually thoughtfully explore Lovecraftian horror by both spending a lot of time on it and dismissing it.

There's never any sense of awe, dread, or even danger from the supernatural elements - the black protagonists are constantly being put into and then rescued from precarious situations by white deus ex machinas (or their ghosts!). The protagonists, drawn from two black families, aren't allowed much agency and they never seem to face any repercussions from their encounters with the supernatural or racism - no one dies or changes drastically (which is one of the powerful and disturbing elements of Lovecraft - no one gets away unscathed). For example, a character is shot in front of his son before they can reconcile - a potentially powerful moment that's wasted when the bullet is magically stopped. Characters are also constantly being threatened with jail, harm, and death but are rescued by chance, magic, or unlikely plot contrivances at the last minute. Besides the father and son, the main protagonists don't experience much conflict with each other - and the conflicts they do have are all morally easy to navigate since they are mostly with clearly evil/misguided/corrupted white people; the exception being a genuinely creepy episode that follows a woman, Ruby, who is tempted to work for a white occultist who controls her by offering doses of a potion that will turn her white for limited times.

Overall, I was hoping for something a little more complicated and engaging, and maybe even a little bit disturbing (plenty of opportunities for that when dealing with racism and supernatural horror.) But Lovecraft Country was, for the most part, a weird (not Weird) and unsatisfying mash of light pulpy adventure (with no real consequences), mixed in with occasional harrowing and weighty examples of racism (also with no real consequences).
Profile Image for Craig Laurance.
Author 29 books150 followers
March 14, 2017
Werewolves don’t scare me. Neither do the walking dead (zombies), Voldemort, body-snatchers, Chuckie, Jason or Freddie.

People who have lost or buried or under-developed their empathy. Who see black and brown and female and trans bodies as things to be used, or scorned or destroyed. Those are the true monsters.

Reading Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country isn’t just a look at the bigotry of the past. Jim Crow isn’t dead. He just got a new suit, had a makeover. Now he wears thousand-dollar suits, has a chic hair cut, and calls himself James Corvid.

Ruff’s novel is loosely structured as a linked short story collection. It follows the Turners, a black middle class family in Chicago and their dealings with a white male sorcerer who wants to control an occult empire. Secret societies, inter-dimensional travel, eidolons, cosmic horrors, possessed dolls and body-thievery all appear in these tales, intertwined with the mundane horrors of life under the heel of racism.

Ruff does imbue the narrative with a sense of wonder. The appearance of Lovecraftian menagerie didn’t terrify me. It was thrilling and exciting and magical. But the big bad, Caleb Braithwaite, he was horrifying. He was a literal personification of Jim Crow--or, rather, James Corvid. Braithwaite, like Corvid, is outwardly handsome and charming. But he is determined to uphold his superiority, and uses (black) as pawns in his narcissistic game. He is the monster.

Like the Ballad of Black Tom (LaValle), LC directly challenges the undercurrent of white supremacy that undergrids H.P.’s fiction.
Profile Image for Elle Maruska.
232 reviews90 followers
February 8, 2017
I really wish I could've like this book more than I did. The concept was really interesting and the characters were very interesting as well. But I feel like this story wasn't the author's to tell; it made me incredibly uncomfortable to read a white man speaking through black characters about being black in the 1950s. I respect books that feature diverse characters but there's a difference between telling a story with black characters and telling a story about being black; white authors can and should do the former but the latter? I don't feel right about it.

As for the story itself, there were many fascinating aspects but I felt overall it read as far too disjointed; I also felt too much was accomplished far too quickly and with very little effort or cost. I feel like it read as rough and unfinished. Also the title seemed less about the content of the book than an overarching concept that the author didn't really succeed in imparting. This was my first book by this author and I'm not certain I'd read another.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews782 followers
August 28, 2017
I have heard Lovecraft Country mentioned quite often recently, I think in connection to the impending TV series adaptation. The title alone intrigued me because I enjoy Lovecraft when he is at his best (at his worst, not so much) as my long-winded review of The Best of H.P. Lovecraft will attest. I thought Lovecraft Country is going to be a Lovecraft pastiche of some kind, with Cthulhu and friends driving people insane just by giving them a funny look. I peeked at the synopsis and I was surprised to find that the book is apparently about the adventures of some black characters during the Jim Crow era when racism in the US was in full swing.

Having already decided to read the book I did not read the summary in detail, so I suspected that this may not even be primarily a novel of the fantasy/horror genre; perhaps it is more of an allegory of racism. As an SF/F/H nerd, I wanted the book to have its fair share of fantastical elements, not just be a work of historical fiction about racism in the 50s. The first fifty or so pages do read like mainstream fiction, a very vivid depiction of how a black man is treated by the police and most of the white Americans they come across. However, soon the overtly supernatural side of the narrative kicks in and genre fans should have nothing to complain about. As for the racism, it is always there in the background as another layer of difficulties faced by the central characters.

The structure of the book also surprised me, I thought the entire novel was going to be centered on Atticus as the protagonist. This is not the case at all, Lovecraft Country is episodic in structure, with a different protagonist in most of the chapters. Each chapter has its own story arc with a dangling plot thread, these threads are tied together in the novel’s finale. The first chapter tells the story of Atticus’ journey to Ardham in search of his father, accompanied by his uncle and cousin. They encounter racists, red necks, monsters and lodges of sorcerers (who are also racists!).

The second chapter concerns Atticus’ cousin, Letitia and her purchase of a haunted house in a racist neighborhood and how she copes like a champ. Her chapter reaches a surprising conclusion and the narrative switches to an entirely different story arc. Later chapters involve weird tech, aliens, shape shifting, more ghosts, monsters, sorcery, and wizards. Each chapter is fun to read, fast paced, thrilling and often funny. If you are looking for actual scares you may be disappointed though; this book is more boisterous supernatural high jinks than horror. On the other hand, there is never a dull moment.

As for the more serious or “commentary” side of the novel, the shameless, overt racism as depicted is quite shocking. It is hard to believe that fellow human beings were treated with such disdain, hatred, and disrespect solely on the basis of their skin colour. That such unreasoning prejudice continues to exist today – albeit to a lesser degree - is dispiriting. My only reservation about this aspect of the book is that there is not one single decent white character in the narrative; this is less believable than the supernatural plotline.

Personally, I don’t like novels that are purely allegorical, I feel that worthwhile novels should have sufficient entertaining value. Regardless of the seriousness of the themes, the storytelling side should not be neglected. I am happy with how Matt Ruff balances the themes and the supernatural adventures in Lovecraft Country. Both sides of the narrative are very well integrated and the book is both entertaining and thought-provoking. This is my first Matt Ruff book, I love his prose style, storytelling, and subtle humour; I will be back for more.
“You require me,” Atticus said. “To be your magic Negro?”

“Ruby, curvy and dark, suggested a youthful Momma—but a Momma who could be pushed around. Her pliability wasn’t limitless, though, and there was a core of genuine Momma within her that could emerge, given time, like a mountain rising from the sea. The trick was getting what you wanted from her before you ran aground.”

“Cartons containing the Spring 1955 edition of The Safe Negro Travel Guide were stacked up against the wall. George thumbed through a loose copy, inhaling fresh ink and wondering, as always, how much longer it would be before he could cease publication and change the name of the business to the plain old Berry Travel Agency. A few more years, probably.”

Quotes from an interview with Matt Ruff at the back of the book:
“But the real reason he’d keep running into monsters was because he was black, and when you’re black in America, there’s always a monster. Sometimes it’s Lovecraftian Elder Gods; sometimes it’s the police, or the Klan, or the Registrar of Voters.”

“Lovecraft was tapping into these universal themes of horror that resonate even if you’re not a white supremacist. I wish he’d been a better person, or blessed with better mentors. But as a storyteller, I can still learn from him.”

Profile Image for Gianfranco Mancini.
2,197 reviews753 followers
April 30, 2021

"Che vi prende?" urlò Braithwhite, guardandoli come se fossero impazziti. "Cosa c’è di tanto divertente?" Ma continuarono tutti a ridere così forte che per un po’ non riuscirono a rispondere.
"Oh, signor Braithwhite" disse infine Atticus, asciugandosi le lacrime. "Davvero sta cercando di spaventarmi? Crede che io non sappia in che paese vivo? Lo so, lo sappiamo tutti. E lo sappiamo da sempre. E' lei, che non capisce."

Lovecraft Country ☆☆☆ 1/2

I sogni nella casa di chi ☆☆☆☆

Il libro di Abdullah ☆☆

Hippolyta disturba l'universo ☆☆☆

Jekyll a Hyde Park ☆☆☆

La casa stretta ☆☆☆☆

Horace e la bambola posseduta ☆☆☆☆

Il marchio di Caino ☆☆☆ ½

Lovecraft Country di Matt Ruff consiste in una serie di storie brevi interconnesse tra loro, con protagonisti una famiglia di afroamericani alle prese con case infestate, bambole demoniache, scambi di corpi, sette occulte e, soprattutto, il New England degli anni ’50, quella parte di America Bianca dove se sei nero è meglio non mettere piede, in cui suprematismo bianco, segregazione etnica delle leggi Jim Crow, città del tramonto (le cosiddette Sundown Towns erano comunità di soli bianchi che impedivano ai cittadini di colore di rimanere nella zona al calar del sole attraverso politiche discriminatorie, atti di violenza, o peggio), poliziotti e sceriffi di contea razzisti dai modi spicci e dal grilletto facile, sono orrori di gran lunga superiori a quelli soprannaturali in cui incappano Atticus, George, Letitia ed il resto della famiglia Turner, nel corso delle loro disavventure.

Da un lato ho apprezzato parecchio il tentativo dell’autore di omaggiare uno dei padri della weird-fiction, facendo allo stesso tempo una satira provocatoria e divertente degli aspetti razziali presenti nelle opere di Lovecraft (il disprezzo del Solitario di Providence riguardo a neri, asiatici ed ebrei, fa sembrare Hitler un chierichetto…), dall’altro ho trovato la qualità delle storie che compongono il romanzo piuttosto altalenante (Il libro di Abdullah mi è sembrato quasi un pastrocchio a metà tra fantasy pulp fiction, Ocean’s Eleven ed Indiana Jones, I sogni nella casa di chi mi ha ricordato invece uno degli episodi più divertenti di Angel: quello di Cordelia che va a vivere nella casa infestata…), con protagonisti che pur se affabili (quasi tutti i componenti della famiglia Turner sono deliziosamente nerdy) potevano essere sviluppati maggiormente, ed una trama portante che, partita bene con il viaggio di Atticus, insieme allo zio George e all’amica d’infanzia Letizia, alla ricerca del padre scomparso nella Terra di Lovecraft dove nessun nero è al sicuro dopo il calar del sole, diventa progressivamente sempre più episodica e meno interessante con lo scorrere delle pagine.

Mi è piaciuto inoltre come alla fine l’autore sia riuscito a connettere tra loro tutte le trame presenti nel libro, ma la risoluzione del conflitto tra i Turner e l’Ordine dell'Antica Alba mi è sembrata proprio tirata per i piedi, e da un romanzo con la parola Lovecraft nel titolo mi aspettavo decisamente qualche easter-egg in più che non si limitasse ad un paio di sporadici Arkdham e Shoiggoth gettati brevemente a mo’ di contentino.

In fin dei conti un libro interessante e piacevole da leggere, che mi ha fatto venire voglia di vedere l’omonima serie tv ad esso ispirata, e che si insinua quasi con successo nell’originale solco tracciato precedentemente da Victor Lavalle con il suo magistrale La Ballata di Black Tom: raccontare una storia lovecraftiana ribaltandone l’originale prospettiva xenofoba con l’aggiunta di protagonisti afroamericani.

Ma se siete invece alla ricerca di colori impossibili venuti dallo spazio, abominevoli divinità ancestrali che dormono sognanti sotto il mare, e quell’orrore cosmico in generale che H. P. Lovecraft aveva magistralmente concepito e sviluppato nei suoi racconti, non li troverete tra queste pagine.

Profile Image for Alexandra .
863 reviews270 followers
February 22, 2022
Da das Buch offensichtlich stark polarisiert und ich vor ewigen Zeiten sowohl ein eingefleischter Matt Ruff als auch H.P.Lovecraft Fan war, wollte ich endlich mitreden können und habe das Buch jetzt auch gelesen.

Möglich gemacht hat dies ausnahmsweise das Team von yourbook.shop, die normalerweise keine Bücher nach Österreich senden, weil bei uns ja das Porto mehr kostet als eine Taschenbuchausgabe und die es trotzdem irgendwie geschafft haben, dass mich dieser Roman, den ich mir mit Bonuspunkten von mehr als 350 ausführlichen Rezis erarbeitet habe, trotz dieser Widrigkeiten postalisch erreichte. Der Wein in der Wachau für das so engagierte Team steht – bitte unbedingt melden.

So, nun habe ich mir eine eigene Meinung bilden können und muss bedauerlicherweise in den Tenor der Kritiker einstimmen. Matt Ruffs Genre-Mix hat bei mir überhaupt nicht funktioniert. Das ist ja sowieso so ein DING des Autors, unterschiedliche Genres, die sich normalerweise gegeneinander sperren oder noch nie probiert worden sind, zu verschmelzen. Humor und Science-Fiction bei G.A.S. fand ich grandios, Humor und eine ernsthafte Schizophreniegeschichte noch viel besser, aber bereits bei Bad Monkeys sträubte sich bei mir die Mischung. Diesen Agententhriller mit Science-Fiction Elementen und Humor fand ich schon weniger prickelnd.

Nun in Lovecraft Country Horrorgeschichten mit Alltagsrassismus, einer Abenteuerstory UND ein bisschen Satire zu kombinieren, ging für mich gehörig in die Hose. Da sind einfach zu viele Komponenten in diesem Eintopf-Mischmasch, die für mich nicht mehr zusammenpassen konnten.

Bücher zum Alltagsrassismus in den 50er Jahren in der USA, was noch die beste Komponente an der Story war, gibt es viel bessere.

Der Lovecraft-Horrorfaktor stellte sich überhaupt nicht ein, im Gegenteil, die angepeilten Gruselelemente wirkten teilweise nicht nur ungruselig, sondern sogar lächerlich (*duckundweg). Was blieb, war meist ein recht langweiliges Lovecraft Namedropping, das Ruff betrieben hat: Ctullu, Necronomicon, Abdul Alhazred, die Berge des Wahnsinns… - Aber das reicht doch nicht, ein paar Buchtitel, das Necronomicon und diese Dimension des Paralleluniversums in der Sternwarte, in den Plot einzubauen, ohne gruselige Situationen richtig mit Horrorfaktor zu beschreiben. Solche Elemente brachten weder den Plot voran, noch lösten sie die Versprechungen des Titels und des Klappentextes ein.

Die einzige gelungene Kombination mit dem Horrorgenre im gesamten Plot empfand ich bei Rubys Elixier, das sie in eine Weiße transformierte. Als das Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde Setting auf Schwarzweiß und zwei völlig unterschiedliche Frauenfiguren in einer Person transformiert wurde, hat mir der Roman erstmals ein bisschen gefallen und es ließ mich hoffen, dass all diese Puzzleteile noch zusammenfinden werden.

Aber denkste, die Genres verschmelzen für mich einfach nicht zu einer konsistenten Emulsion, auch wenn sie mit sehr viel Druck und Gewalt zusammengepresst werden. In der Küche würde man sagen, die Mayonnaise ist plötzlich ausgeflockt.

Die Abenteuergeschichte in Lovecraft Country fährt schon wie bei Bad Monkeys derart mit einem Unwahrscheinlichkeitsantrieb, dass die Unwahrscheinlichkeiten und Zufälle so vorhersehbar daherkommen, dass sie schon wieder langweilig werden. Egal in welch kritische und gefährliche Situationen sich die Protagonisten begeben, sie kommen immer zufällig und völlig ohne Kratzer aus jeder Malaise heraus. Das ist sooo gähn, wenn man nicht nur weiß, dass man sich um überhaupt KEINE der Figuren aus der Familie und dem Freundeskreis der Protagonisten Sorgen machen muss, sondern auch dass gleich wieder irgendein komischer Zufall passiert, der schwuppdiwupp die Antagonisten zerstört und der Gruppe um Atticus hilft. Ein paar Kollateralschäden, ein paar Verletzte und gelegentlich ein Toter in dieser Gemeinschaft hätten dem Plot und der Spannung sehr gutgetan. Sogar mein Goodreads-Freund Michael, der durch die intensive Beschäftigung mit dem Superhelden-Genre an solche dramaturgischen Settings gewöhnt ist, meinte, das war wirklich zu viel des Guten.

Und dann auch noch der Humor der in den gruseligsten Situationen so en passant komplett zur Unzeit auftaucht. Humor kann er ja, der Ruff, aber ich will doch nicht lachen, wenn ich mich fürchten sollte.

Fazit: Zu viele Genreelemente zusammengepanscht verderben auch den Brei. Lest einen Ruff, aber einen anderen. G.A.S, die Trilogie der Stadtwerke und Ich und die anderen kann ich empfehlen.
Profile Image for Gerhard.
1,053 reviews529 followers
August 24, 2020
'We continue to look forward to the time, not far off now, when all travelers are treated as equals. And until that glorious day, we resolve to stride forth boldly, prepared for whatever challenges the road ahead may bring ...'
—The Safe Negro Travel Guide, Spring 1955 edition

I have yet to watch any episodes of the HBO limited series based on this book, but from the trailer it seems that enfant terrible Jordan Peele et al have upped the juice on the Lovecraft quotient, which is precisely what I felt is missing from the second half of Matt Ruff’s novel. Which is really a series of inter-connected stories.

I think I might have given this a higher rating if I had read it upon its original publication in 2016. ‘The Ballad of Black Tom’ by Victor LaValle was published in the same year. This year we’ve had the excellent ‘Ring Shout’ by P. Djèlí Clark. The ‘Safe Negro Travel Guide’ was prominent in the 2018 Oscar-winner ‘Green Book’. The Tulsa Massacre played a key role in Damon Lindelof’s 2019 ‘Watchmen’. I am also reminded of the wonderful Lovecraft-noir Tinfoil Dossier novellas by Caitlin Kiernan.

So it is clear that ‘Lovecraft Country’ seems to have effectively paved the way for a rather reactionary approach to Lovecraft (Ruff references the author’s poem ‘On the Creation of N*****s’, if anyone was in doubt). This acknowledges his innate racism while simultaneously subverting it. Is such an approach entirely successful though?

I would love to see Lovecraft transposed into a modern setting. So far it seems as if ‘whitewashing’ the author only works if set in the period in which he lived and wrote. But the world, and the horror genre, have moved on. Yes, a lot of today’s problems do have their origins in the past, but we need to be proactive in providing both solutions and resolutions.

SF has its own ghosts to deal with, like John W. Campbell, an avowed racist and general nutcase that has tainted the genre for far too long (just see the brouhaha about the 2020 Hugo Awards in New Zealand). Both horror and SF have taken the step to remove these names from some influential awards. Is this enough? The title ‘Lovecraft Country’ reminds me of the scene from Hamlet, fittingly referenced in Star Trek’s ‘The Undiscovered Country’:

The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Profile Image for Repix.
2,177 reviews411 followers
August 26, 2020
El arranque es muy potente, me recordó a alguno de los buenos de Stephen King, y la representación del racismo en los años 50 en Estados Unidos estaba muy bien desarrollado y consigue que te enganches aún más a la lectura, pero llega un momento en el que queda claro que el libro aborda diferentes narrativas sin centrarse lo suficiente en el desarrollo de cada personaje, un enorme desperdicio, y es como una serie de relatos interconectados y muy desaprovechados.
Esperaba más.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,943 reviews3,404 followers
July 23, 2020
I only found out about this book thanks to seeing the trailer for the Netflix adaptation. The way bookworms sometimes find great stories is almost creepy. *lol*

We’re in America in the 50s. Slavery might be over but racism certainly isn’t. If you think what you’re seeing nowadays is bad, strap yourself in, because this will be a very uncomfortable ride for you. As it should be because all the frisking, all the crimes black people didn’t commit but were punished (even killed) for, the everyday discrimination, … truly horrible and horrific.
We first meet Atticus, an Army veteran in search of his father. That way, we’re introduced to a cult of (white) men called Adamite Order of the Ancient Dawn that has actual abilities (like putting glamours on cars so you won’t be bothered when driving through a certain area or changing someone’s appearance). They need Atticus because he comes from a powerful bloodline necessary for a ritual they want to perform.
Thus begins a wild romp through different smaller stories, each featuring what were at first secondary characters. They all get their spotlight and I’m happy to report that the females shone as brightly as the males. But the center stage is reserved for this weird area of the world (hello, Cairo, old friend), where what appears to be magic - or significantly enough advanced tech - results in portals to alternate dimensions being opened and used, rituals going wrong (depending on your point of view) and the wrong power being unleashed. Superhero / supervillain style.

Ruby, Leticia, Atticus, Caleb* and many more try to survive this mosaic-like plot as well as haunted houses, fighting for a future in a world where magical monsters populate the woods just as much as racist sheriffs.
(* It was interesting that Caleb of all people was making, through his actions, the point that the color of one’s skin really doesn’t matter.)

The writing style was very engaging and kept me at the edge of my seat, trying to get my bearings. But it also made me laugh out loud (Leticia and her shotgun in the haunted house). I loved all the nods to classics of the supernatural and horror genre (not just Lovecraft’s) and was quite fascinated by the magic system, the atlas, the entire set-up and how the author combined all those elements perfectly.

This accurate depiction of the 50s in America from the point of view of black people getting mashed together with this kind of supernatural horror resulted in a deliciously surreal tale and emphasized the strange world people had to live and survive in.

A wonderful, fantastic tale! Can’t wait for the screen adaptation.
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