The Terror of the Real and the Unreal

Lovecraft Country: A Novel, by Matt Ruff, (Harper), 384 pages, release date 16 February, 2016

Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country is one of those novels that defies categorization. It is a tale of terrifying fantasy worthy of H. P. Lovecraft himself. It is also an unsettling exploration of race in 1950s America.

Atticus Turner, a black veteran of the Korean War, seeks his missing father, who disappeared while exploring the mysterious origins of his wife’s family. Atticus is accompanied by his uncle George, author and publisher of the Safe Negro Travel Guide, and a childhood friend named Letitcia, who proves surprisingly quick-thinking and resourceful. Their search takes them through woods in which an unseen malevolent creature roams, a strangely isolated village that could almost come from the previous century, a haunted mansion, and an observatory that can carry people to any location in the universe.

But these horrors are almost superseded by the risks involved in daily life as negro travelers. The trio are tailed, threatened, refused service, and attacked. The unusual horrors of the supernatural can be overcome; the horrors of racism persist. The Safe Negro Travel Guide is an essential part of this road trip.

Lovecraft Country makes for compelling reading, pairing an action-laden plot with unsettling questions that will remain with the reader long after the book is closed. This is a perfect book for reading in the dark of winter—and both sets of horrors it presents will make sleep difficult when bedtime arrives.

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