It wasn’t until the HBO trailer dropped that Lovecraft Country jumped into my hands, escaping the clutches of my reading list. I love Lovecraftian lore and mythos, which is why this book stood out to me. Having read it, I adore it not for its depiction of cosmic horror but for its self-aware commentary on legal racism in an America that most people would rather forget.
The story isn’t even very Lovecraftian, taking inspiration from it in microdoses. Yes, it involves secret societies, unimaginable entities, and intergalactic portals. Still, it does so in a very grounded way, all in the background of racism, which is the true monster here. It rears its ugly head in situations we all take for granted – traveling, buying a house, seeking help from the police. Never have I been afraid of any of these things, yet these characters have to handle these situations with thick skins. Jim Crow laws in America were real, and it was a far scarier place than any horror writer could dream up of.
However, racism often felt heavy-handed, especially when viewed through Montrose’s character. I also found it hard to believe that they met not even one ‘good’ white person in all their adventures. It feels more far fetched than alien deities, evil dolls, wizard societies, and whatnot.
Atticus and his extended family are developed extensively and grounded with humanity that feels all too real sometimes. George, his uncle, publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, and his wife, who’s into astronomy, develop a sense of solidarity and kinship that’s very rare in contemporary literature. Ruby steals the show in a story where she turns into a white woman, experiencing the opportunities it brings.
Meanwhile, Caleb Braithwhite, the villain, feels two dimensional in comparison. He’s equal parts malice and charm, manipulating his way to the top. With one small exception, he comes across as callous and heartless, which was surprising to me considering the richness of the other characters. I wish he was developed further, with us getting a look at his backstory and finding out what motivated him or made him into what he is.
The stories come across as self-aware and critical of the very foundations on which they’re built on. Nothing phases the characters – haunted houses, strange rituals, interdimensional creatures. I suppose it’s because the characters grew up on a steady diet of horror and fantasy fiction. Maybe it’s a commentary on how we wouldn’t flinch or be shocked if we found aliens amongst us.
Or maybe it’s because the “horror at the universe” isn’t some faceless god-like aliens, but the terror and loathing of a society that’s designed to put you down because of your skin color. To be honest, just like Atticus and his family, I was on edge whenever white characters were present. The constant threat of racism – both psychologically and physically – was something I’d only seen in Octavia Butler’s Kindred. I’d forgotten just how it fills you with dread at even the simplest of interactions.
This is a fun book of stories about racism with supernatural overtones, not the other way around. And that’s interesting. Read it not for Lovecraftian horror but societal horror. Read it to appreciate the value of a good family. Read it because the television show will surely strip away its more human parts. Just read it – no regrets!