What could be scarier than a unknown entity stalking you across the cosmos? Being a person of color in 1950s America of course! Back then you didn't know whether the white man you saw on the corner would shout a racial slur, or whether he might summon a lynch mob to hang you for being in the wrong neighborhood. Against this backdrop, the specter of cosmological horrors from beyond space and time can only make things worse! How do you combine the two? You take a little trip to Lovecraft Country!
Written by Matt Ruff, I picked up this novel in 2018, and have given it a lot of thought in the last year. It's a very interesting work balancing the mundane fears of the African American community already present in the United States in the 1950s with the more esoteric panic of monsters from beyond the veil of time and space. Understandably our protagonists in this story are struggling against both the prejudice of the white community which wishes to 'put them in their place' and the monsters which want to put them in their stomachs.
Told in chapters from the perspectives of various characters it first takes up the mantle of Atticus Turner, a Korean War veteran who did his time fighting the communists for Washington. Sadly, that earns him very little respect from white veterans, and even less from the average white man in the North of the United States. He finds that his father has gone missing. Accompanied by his uncle, George who wrote The Safe Negro Travel Guide (based heavily on the Negro Motorist Green Book), they discover his father has been kidnapped by the mysterious Samuel Braithwhite of Ardham. To free him, he must travel to this remote and rural area to take part in some strange ritual which may cost him his life. There though, he may have an ally in the strange son of his tormentor, Caleb.
From here, the story explores the minutia of life in 1950s America for people of color. Of course, it adds to that by throwing in ghosts, monsters, curses and other sundry issues which would drive the average man mad.
It is a fascinating tale which almost reads like a series of interconnected TV episodes, which ironically is what it was originally opted as. It picks up with ghost stories, interplanetary travel, cursed dolls and even heist plots, all with an overarching battle between equally dangerous wizards in the background. It makes for, what is in effect, an engaging series of short stories wrapped up as a novel. They all tie together quite neatly, making for some very exciting reading.
Ruff tells a fascinating story. One which comes together and has creeps and spooks which could easily come from the real Lovecraft country. It is compelling at its heart because it isn't just a regular series of horror stories. It does its best to examine the challenges facing African Americans in the United States before the Civil Rights era, and uses these characters to tell a frankly fascinating story\ies which can be enjoyed from the comfort of your living room, and will hopefully make you think. For fun stories and some great ideas, I heavily encourage you to read it, and look forward to the series coming out in the future!