Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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 ruthlessly determined to uphold his (white) (male) 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.