“But stories are like people, Atticus. Loving them doesn’t make them perfect. You try to cherish their virtues and overlook their flaws. The flaws are still there, though.”
Fans of Rhode Island horror writer H.P. Lovecraft may come to this book expecting uncanny, tentacled encounters with Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, and other extraterrestrial monstrosities, but the real horrors here are all too terrestrial: the horrors of racism and discrimination. Members of a black family living in the Jim Crow era have a series of encounters with a strange occult sect, but find the supernatural menaces they deal with less challenging than everyday life in racist America. The novel is made up of three interconnected stories in which Korean War veteran Atticus Turner and his relatives are drawn into the web of the Braithwhite family, leaders of a mystical sect called “The Order of the Ancient Dawn.” Atticus is the descendant of a runaway slave of the Braithwhite family and has Braithwhite blood himself--but this is no tender family reunion. Relying on their own determination, ingenuity, and hard-won survival skills, Atticus and his family must outwit the Order, while also navigating a world of “sundown towns,” restricted housing, and police persecution. In this, they have expert help: Atticus’s Uncle George is the editor of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, based on actual books that helped African-Americans find safe spaces in a hostile segregated world. Matt Ruff does a good job mixing supernatural chills with social realism and even unexpected humor. Lovecraft Country may not be the Lovecraftian horror story the title suggests, but it combines well-drawn characters and a compelling story with a thoughtful look at how racism is embedded in American life. Look for an HBO original series based on this novel soon.