When I reviewed Matt Ruff's incredible Lovecraft Country last February on its hardcover release dates, I wrote, "Ruff inverts the Lovecraft horror, which turned so often on "miscegenation" and the duty of advanced humans to trample those around them in their drive to recapture this lost wisdom (and humanity's lost grace). His Lovecraftian horror is the horror of the people whom the Lovecraftian heroes viewed as subhuman, expendable, a stain on the human race. By blending real history (such as the Tulsa riots) and Lovecraftian tropes, Ruff's characters shine as active protagonists in their own story who have lives, have dignity, and have indomitable spirit that they use to fight back against the power structure that Lovecraft lionized."
While transforming my original idea into a novel, I kept the structure of a season of television. The long opening chapter, like a two-hour pilot, introduces the main characters and sends them on a dangerous cross-country journey. Each subsequent chapter offers a self-contained weird tale—a “monster of the week” episode—starring a different member of Atticus’s extended family. In “Dreams of the Which House,” Atticus’s friend Letitia buys a haunted house in a white neighborhood and has to play the dead off against the living to keep what’s hers. In “Abdullah’s Book,” Atticus’s uncle George enlists his Freemasons’ lodge to stop an ancient treatise on magic from falling into the wrong hands. In “Hippolyta Disturbs the Universe,” Atticus’s aunt discovers a portal to another world. In “Jekyll in Hyde Park,” Letitia’s sister Ruby goes home with the wrong guy and wakes up to find that she’s been turned into a white woman. In “The Narrow House,” a dead man forces Atticus’s father to revisit the 1921 Tulsa race riot. In “Horace and the Devil Doll,” corrupt Chicago police detectives use sorcery to terrorize Atticus’s 12-year-old cousin. All of these episodes fit together to form a larger arc story about Atticus’s struggle against the Braithwhite clan and the Order of the Ancient Dawn.
For me, Lovecraft Country demonstrates the real power of diversity in art. By focusing on people who were traditionally excluded from genre fiction, I’m able to do interesting new things with some very old tropes, while simultaneously exploring aspects of our shared history that aren’t as well-known as they should be. Combining fantasy with realism produces a richer story than would be possible with either alone. And despite being set sixty years in the past, this is easily one of the most topical books I’ve written—though that says less about my skills as an author than it does about the state of the country that I live in.
Lovecraft Country (paperback) [Matt Ruff/Harper]
The Big Idea: Matt Ruff [Matt Ruff/Whatever]