Matt Ruff’s ‘Lovecraft Country’ Novel: The Conskipper Review

As viewers get ready to watch the premiere of HBO’s adaptation on Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country on Sunday, August 16, it is always a good time to take a look at the source material. As readers rush out to book stores to pick up the novel in order to stay one step ahead of the new television series, Conskipper thought it was a good time to look back at the original story.

The book, first released in 2016 , is still a timely read given the current climate in this country. While Lovecraft Country is a suspenseful read as far as a novel telling a supernatural story goes, the scariest parts of this book are when the characters confront racist attitudes in the Jim Crow era. 

The novel features Atticus Turner, a young black man living in 1950s Florida when he receives a mysterious letter from his father Montrose. In the letter, Montrose refers to Atticus’s birthright (on his mother’s side) and Montrose thinks it’s about time for Atticus to claim what’s his. When Atticus arrives in Chicago, he discovers his father has left and sets off to find him with his uncle George Berry and childhood friend Letitia Dandridge. 

Thus starts the first of several supernatural adventures for Atticus and his family and friends – all the while trying to fight secret organizations – dominated by White men – and other entities. 

One thread that pops up early in  the book is a discussion of pulp and science fiction works, and how precious little Black people are represented in the genre. Atticus and George are both big fans, but Montrose abhors his son’s love of these works and makes no secret of it. 

George sympathises with Atticus, as he knows his father can be rough on him, but he also acknowledges that Montrose isn’t wrong about some of these authors and their stories having their flaws.

H.P. Lovecraft, for example, is a writer Atticus enjoys. Montrose soon discovers that Lovecraft was also a poet, and discovers one particular poem, the title of which includes a racial slur, and presents it to young Atticus.  As George tells Atticus, sometimes they “stab me in the heart.” 

Throughout the book, main characters are each given their own mini adventures, some featuring creatures and ghosts that Atticus could have read about in the books he enjoys. 

Of course, these monsters are the least of their concerns. People prove just as frightening. George recounts the story of a man who encounters something lurking in the woods only to end up face to face with a highway patrolman who informs the man he has until sundown to get out of his jurisdiction, otherwise the trooper will hang him. The pursuit over the county line is as chiling as any other confrontation in the book.

The scariest tale surrounds Levitia – a smart, confident and ambitious woman who believes in the Divine power to help guide her through. She takes on home ownership despite having to fight off a ghost in the house and the more menacing presence of those in the neighborhood that want to run her off. 

We also hear about the “Safe Negro Travel Guide,” based on the real life “Negro Motorist Green Book.” The publication served as a way to steer people of color towards businesses that were friendly. In the book, friendly locations are marked with tree houses and hobbit holes, while hostile are marked with ogres, trolls and vampires. The guide is one vehicle through which the characters navigate the institutional racism they are confronted with.

The novel is in turn scary, funny and heartbreaking.  Lovecraft Country successfully examines the pursuit of one’s dreams and ambitions in the face of hatred and violence, while navigating relationships within families and friends, who don’t always perceive life in the same way. 

It will be interesting to see what HBO and the shows creators (Misha Green, who also serves as showrunner, J.J. Abrams, Jordan Peele, Bill Carraro, Yann Demange, Daniel Sackheim and David Knoller) have done with the material, and if the show goes beyond the initial season, what other adventures these characters will take us on.

Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country is available in book stores everywhere. HBO’s Lovecraft Country will debut on Sunday, August 16 at 9 PM ET.

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