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Lovecraft Country
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Discussion > Buddy Read for May 2020: Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

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Marie-Therese (mariethrse) | 550 comments Please join Tim and me as we read Matt Ruff's acclaimed 2016 novel in stories Lovecraft Country, soon to be an HBO miniseries produced by Jordan Peele, Misha Green, and JJ Abrams.

Set in the US during the era of Jim Crow laws, 'Lovecraft Country' follows the adventures of a group of mostly black pulp and science-fiction fans as they set out on a rescue mission and confront secret societies, dark magic, shifts in time and space, and the horror of everyday racism and bigotry.

We'll be starting the book immediately but feel free to chime in whenever you have the time or interest.


message 2: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim | 117 comments Started last night and while I only read 25 pages I already found some noteworthy things.

So, first off, the entire tire story did a really good job of setting the time and period. While I recognize that a good portion of people know (and they really should know) about American racism of the 50s, showing a multiple page digression that last hours and then showing it get resolved in a paragraph and pointing out all the wasted time for something so quick was incredibly infuriating (and I mean that as a positive towards the novel).

Second thing, I’ve read several novels that tackle the racism In Lovecraft’s work, but this is the only one I’ve seen that not only tackles it, but also tackles the uncomfortable nature of still liking his fiction despite this. While the conversation is not about Lovecraft himself (it is about science fiction and weird stories in general), he is tackled in the topic.

“ 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”


message 3: by Whitney (last edited May 13, 2020 08:43PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Whitney | 129 comments I read this a few years ago, but started rereading for this discussion.

This book and Victor LaValle's The Ballad of Black Tom came out the same year, and I read them back to back. These were the first works of fiction I'd encountered that clapped back against Lovecraft's work while still appreciating the attraction of the legacy. Ruff is more obvious in his intent; as Tim says, people are literally stating the issue in the book. LaValle is a bit more artful is burying the ideas within the story. Both are straightforward in showing that there are worse horrors than the elder gods.

I enjoyed the way Ruff lays out the story in connected but separate episodes. I wasn't too surprised to read that he'd originally intended it for a TV series; and now he'll get his wish!

Here's a link to Pam Noles' essay "Shame", which Ruff sites as an influence. You can definitely see the bones of the relationship between Atticus and Montrose in it. http://www.infinitematrix.net/faq/ess...


message 4: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim | 117 comments Found this and thought it was interesting. It's a conversation between Matt Ruff and Victor LaValle (whose The Ballad of Black Tom also takes on race and Lovecraft was coincidentally published the same day as Lovecraft Country), where they discuss Lovecraft and the themes/inspirations for both books. It contains spoilers for both books, but honestly it made me want to read Black Tom after finishing this one.


message 5: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim | 117 comments I just finished the third story and I am really liking this book.

So first let me say that I am really glad that Ruff has a good sense of humor and keeps playing up some bits for comedy. I'm not one of those people who feels a need for comic relief always, but this book needs it. Not because of the "horror" elements, the real world aspects are by far the worst bits.

So, something I've noticed thus far is that the real danger never comes from the supernatural (at least not towards our leads). Monsters in the woods? Hit the deputies, but not our leads, in contrast the sheriff and deputies are far more real threat.

Got a haunted house? Sure the ghost is annoyed and more than a little threatening, but what is that compared to your neighbors who plan to torch your house (not to even mention what they would have done to her had she gotten in the car earlier). The supernatural is by far away and the least of their concerns.

Which brings me back to the humor and why it is needed... because if it wasn't here, this book would be bleak as hell. Sure, Lovecraftian horror is known for a world that doesn't care about it's protagonists and a sense of hopelessness, but here Ruff is 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... and that is terrifying.


message 6: by Bill (last edited May 17, 2020 02:52PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1323 comments I enjoyed the first story, with the Jim Crow period detail, and the charming main characters who often have a surprise or three up their sleeves.

I'm not a fan of the writing, though it's common for the genre; it's a bit longwinded for my taste, and too often weighed down with unnecessary visual detail and ecclesiastical (and other) musings. Surely there are more elegant ways to fill in the backstory, other than having poor Atticus ask awkward questions of every other stranger he meets. (I bet Caleb left that book in his room, right?) And I get bored quickly with thriller mechanics (cars failing mysteriously, fist and gun fights, etc), but I'm sure I'm in the minority here.

(I also enjoyed Ballad of Black Tom, but it's quite different from this.)


Whitney | 129 comments I'm didn't notice annoyingly excessive long-windedness, but I will concede the easy exposition of quizzing characters for background.

When I started this the first time, I had assumed the writer was black. I backtracked on that after seeing the main character was named "Atticus", as it seemed unlikely that the culturally clued-in Montrose would name his son after the white savior of To Kill a Mockingbird. I checked the cast list for the series; interestingly, they kept the name Atticus, but lost the presumptive Nat Turner reference in favor of the (perhaps a bit too obvious) last name "Black".

Another interesting change they made was replacing Caleb Braithwhite with Christine Braithwhite. Could certainly introduce a whole 'nother level of social commentary.


Marie-Therese (mariethrse) | 550 comments Tim wrote: "Found this and thought it was interesting. It's a conversation between Matt Ruff and Victor LaValle (whose The Ballad of Black Tom also takes on race and Lovecraft was coincidentally published the same day as Lovecraft Country), where they discuss Lovecraft and the themes/inspirations for both books. It contains spoilers for both books, but honestly it made me want to read Black Tom after finishing this one."

'The Ballad of Black Tom' is really good. Quite different from this: more literary, perhaps, and more "Lovecraftian" in terms of adjectives and, er... eldritch horror, but similar in its unflinching look at what African-Americans have had to endure just to get by in the US.

I think you'll really like it, Tim, should you decide to read it.


Marie-Therese (mariethrse) | 550 comments When I first started this book I thought the prose was serviceable: just good enough to get the story across without detracting too much from it while not being memorable in itself. But, as I read the second, third, and fourth story, that term "serviceable" began to take on a different meaning for me. I began to feel that Ruff wrote the way he did in service to the story, as a way to not obfuscate or draw attention away from what the characters face, to make things plain and clear, and I started to notice a lot of signs of genuine technical assurance: good dialogue, easy pacing, nice bits of humour that blend into the story seamlessly, and some killer last lines. I feel like Ruff could be a lot more showy, more obviously "Lovecraftian" if he wanted to, but that's not the story he's telling, that's not the horror he wants us to see. What he's trying to point out is so much more quotidian, so grounded in everyday reality. As Tim aptly pointed out above, so far the real terror in the book, the genuine threat, comes more from the non-supernatural than the weird. Sheriffs and sundown towns are a hell of a lot more scary here than Cthulhu and shoggoths.

I'm about 75% through this now and really impressed. Not because I think this is deathless prose but because I feel that Ruff has something to say and he knows how to say it clearly, economically, and with enough of a humorous kick to keep people reading and engaged. This isn't a Lovecraftian pastiche ala the Derleth/Arkham House stuff (thank the elder gods!) but an interesting and well-thought out reimagining; I like the way Ruff brings in other SFF tropes, helping to establish the fannish cred of his characters and to ground them in a very particular time period. I like the way he includes kickass women and difficult men who aren't always very sympathetic. I guess I just really like this book.


message 10: by Marie-Therese (last edited May 18, 2020 12:48AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marie-Therese (mariethrse) | 550 comments Whitney wrote: "Another interesting change they made was replacing Caleb Braithwhite with Christine Braithwhite. Could certainly introduce a whole 'nother level of social commentary."

Huh! I'm not sure I get the reasoning for this and wonder how it will work. I mean the whole story with Ruby Dandridge is going to be complicated in a way I don't think will illuminate much. But maybe they're going to leave that out. Still, thinking more on this, I don't think I like this switch much. (And here I was initially kind of looking forward to the series. *sigh*)


message 11: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim | 117 comments I just finished the fourth story. Still enjoying the book, but it's probably my least favorite. The first one was a wonderful setup to the tone and what we were getting into. The second was a well done take on a classic story. The third was just flat out fun and funny... the fourth was good, but just didn't seem to offer as much. Some clever moments, and not bad by any means, but not up to what had come before in my opinion.


message 12: by Bill (last edited May 20, 2020 09:20PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1323 comments I'm not a fan of the haunted house story, or a lot of the writing (though I understand I'm in the grumpy minority here). I did enjoy the Jekyll and Hyde story: Caleb's scheming is front and center, and Ruby's internal conflicts are very compelling. And things seem to be heating up.


Marie-Therese (mariethrse) | 550 comments Bill wrote: "I'm not a fan of the haunted house story, or a lot of the writing (though I understand I'm in the grumpy minority here). I did enjoy the Jekyll and Hyde story: Caleb's scheming is front and center, and Ruby's internal conflicts are very compelling. And things seem to be heating up."

Heh heh. I meant to write you privately earlier to let you know I didn't think this would be your thing in terms of prose but you started the book before I got around to it! ;-)

I really like the Jekyll/Hyde story featuring Ruby. She's an interesting and perhaps problematic character throughout the rest of the book. Very different than the way her sister initially presents her, she quickly became a favourite for me.

I've finished the book now and enjoyed it very much overall. I felt some of the stories were definitely stronger than others but the way they came together to form a whole and bring the novel to conclusion was skillfully done. I liked the characters: they were attractive and engaging without being perfect, and each had a fairly distinctive voice. The epilogue made me smile.

I look forward to discussing this further when others finish.


message 14: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim | 117 comments I will finish the book tomorrow. I just got to the last story. Looking forward to a more in depth discussion. I will say now that I really enjoyed this one (as I only have one story I think I can officially say that) and that even the worst stories are still enjoyable, and some of the ones I thought at the start I wouldn’t like as much ended up being my favorites.


message 15: by Bill (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1323 comments Marie-Therese wrote: "Heh heh. I meant to write you privately earlier to let you know I didn't think this would be your thing in terms of prose but you started the book before I got around to it! ;-) "

I appreciate the thought, M-T! I'm enjoying it enough, despite the grumbling. I should finish tonight as well.


message 16: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim | 117 comments For those interested, HBO posted a trailer for the upcoming TV series adaptation of the book.

For those who have not finished the book, warning, some spoilers below.

Alright, so I've finished the book and really enjoyed it. Going to do a quick breakdown of interesting aspects of 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 the Braithwhites.

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 could at least be reasoned with somewhat... compare that to the neighbors.

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 it's Abdullah's book in the title, not the one they are actually out to steal. This story gave us more insight into George and his own protectiveness of his family. I also like how aspects of this story are revisited in The Narrow House.

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 discussions about the discovery of Pluto discussed at the start.

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 figured out pretty early on who it was Ruby was actually turning into. 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.

The most interesting thing about him is that he comes off as possibly the least racist white man in the book. He doesn't look down upon anyone for color (everyone seems equally beneath him in his eyes) and if anything he finds some genuine amusement at seeing black characters overcome challenges place in their way. He's still happy to manipulate them, but chooses to because he believes that they will overcome were others won't. He's an interesting contrast from all the other villains of the book who are consistently racist in actions.

The Narrow House - The most depressing story in the collection to me, from start to finish. We really are getting two tales here, the story of the inhabitants of the narrow 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.

Horace and the Devil Doll - Was wondering if we would get into police relations, and as uncomfortable as a topic as it is, I'm glad we did. Showing how the police used Horace really as a sacrificial pawn, not even to get to his family but to send a message to Braithwhite is horrifying in its own regard.

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. It may have one of the darkest examples of an "everybody laughs" ending I've ever seen, after Caleb threatens them that everyone will be out to get them without his protection, and they react with that's just how the world is.


Things I really appreciated about the book:

I liked that it was more of an examination of race in horror overall, not just Lovecraft. 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.


message 17: by Bill (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1323 comments The poll for our June monthly read is up! Please vote by Saturday evening:
https://www.goodreads.com/poll/show/2...

As usual, if you vote for a book and it wins, you are committing to participate in the discussion.


message 18: by Bill (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1323 comments Our June 2020 buddy read will be Leonor Fini's Rogomelec. More info here:
https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...


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