Shameless plug: WATCH LOVECRAFT COUNTRY ON HBO!
Note: This book does have lots of racial themes, and the N-word is used.
I try and take book reviews from the people closest to me seriously. I do know a group of voracious readers. My TBR list sees to be never ending–and I love this. Trust me! It was a friend of mine that told me about Lovecraft Country, and of course I put it on the list. He did tell me that it was amazing–what he didn’t tell me was that I was going to LOVE it.
But as much as I love the book there were parts of the book that made me scream internally, and make me catch my breath for that fear. Why is this? The author of this book, is Matt Ruff—and Matt Ruff is White. Matt Ruff is a White man that was writing about the Jim Crow era with no apology. With no apology (I will be touching on this on the The Writers’ Block podcast this month. Listen to the 8/27/2020 podcast with Anette King where she talks about writing ‘cross-culturally.’).
A quick and dirty of this story:
Atticus Turner (a Black man) is looking for his father, after coming home from the army–going from Florida to his childhood home in Chicago. When he gets to his hometown, he talks to his Uncle George (his father’s brother) about where he could be and the letter that he got from his father. His childhood friend, Leticia, joins them to find his father. And that is JUST the beginning of it! Come to find out, Atticus is the descendant (a powerful) maternal descendant of a secret society that has special powers!
The setting of the story is the early 1950’s, and the scary things the secret society does is nothing to be compared to what this threesome has to deal with! And what their families have to deal with because of the pursuit of power. Racism–powered by Jim Crow–is the most frightening thing in this story. Also, the secret superhero for this story is actually The Green Book For Negro Motorists (if you have never heard of this book, you need to stop here. Google it.). Atticus’s uncle runs the company that publishes the book–the same book the first cop takes from Atticus after throwing him against the car, and accusing him of stealing his own car.
We aren’t even going to talk about Ruby becoming Hillary, a White woman through a potion? And how Mr. Braithwhite had made the potion/serum from the body of a woman had in a lab?! I have so many things to say about this! So many feelings!
Yet the scariest thing to me, now as a mother was when Hipployta’s son was cornered by the police. Keep in mind, Miranda rights weren’t even thought of yet! They cornered his young man, slick threatening him about where his mother was–and why a comic book with his name on it was found at the seen of an accident where officers were killed. And his mother was there. I have never been more terrified for a child in my life! In my life!
Racism palpable through this work, it is a character! It is the monster in the closet, under the bed, and in the eyes of the policemen that try to hurt, harm, maim and kill all those trying to do right! And Matt Ruff does not shy away from how evil and insidious, and insulated it is in the lives of the rank and file of the powerful!
The one thing that I didn’t expect from this book is how a well-written the book is! If I had to but an archetype of how to write cross-culturally, this would be in the top 10 of those books! Matt Ruff doesn’t fall into stereotypes, he doesn’t make his characters caricatures! It was beautiful to see that a White writer wrote Black folk in a way that was sincere, tangible and completely believeable!
I won’t give away the ending, but just know that it isn’t want you think! I will tell you that the book does have some points where you will have to go back and re-read it. One of them is when Hipployta finds the observatory and finds another planet–and walks through a door to get there! Another is when Montrose (Atticus’s father) finds the notebooks needed by Mr. Braithwhite that has spells written by a member of this secret society–and he watches the murder of this member and his family all over again.
The book will make sure you pay attention. TRUST! And just as you catch your breath at the end, when you make it to the end, you hear Atticus telling Mr. Braithwhite he is not afraid of the country he lives in, he is well aware of it. As the book ends, Atticus tells Mr. Braithwhite, after this last fight, “I know the country I live in.” After everything he had seen, and been through–he and his squad were still able to laugh! But, you know that is what we as Black folk have had to do–deal the best way we can. If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry–even in Lovecraft Country.