Here's what I don't like, and take extreme umbrage with. There has been a growing trend to look at Lovecraft-not his fiction, not his impact on genre literature-but at Mr. Howard Phillips himself, and say: this man was a racist, and his fiction, his legacy, requires correction.
What's the purpose of conjuring up nightmarish elder things when there are real monsters lurking in America? That's what Ruff would have us think-that since there were (and still are) real dangers in our society, wrought upon us every day by the racial divide sown into the very fabric of this country's creation, that there is no place for imaginative horrors and fantasies. Not by racists like Lovecraft, that is.
Through his character's mouths, Ruff says as much in one of the episodes in Lovecraft Country. The man's a racist, so his work shouldn't be read, shouldn't be praised. That sickens me to my core, and I'll tell you why.
1. In the twentieth century, for the entirety of the twentieth century but perhaps moreso in the 1920's during which Lovecraft was most active, everybody and their mothers were racists. Not only in America but especially in America: with a long history of slavery, then segregation mixed with terrorism, scientific racism, and an American eugenics movement (YES-the thing that brought Nazi Germany to the Final Solution), racism has always been and continues to be the order of the day. That doesn't make it okay, that doesn't normalize it, but it does contextualize it. Lovecraft, while sometimes vocal about his racial inclinations, was no better or worse than most of his New England neighbors. You only know that about him with more certainty because he was a writer. To define him by this is a nonstarter; it's not news, and it's not a definitive piece of his identity as a writer. To say that, based on his ideas about blacks and other ethnic minorities, his literature is not worth reading, is assinine. That kind of thinking would wipe from the earth practically everything penned by a white person until possibly the end of the twentieth century, when thinking about race in terms of cultural relativity even emerged as a school of thought.
|Not even close, Ruff. Not even close|
But no. Everything was told in such a perfunctory, matter-of-fact way, that I could never connect to the characters, never feel the impact of their stories. First they got shaken down by the side of the road. After that, the protagonist's father is found in the basement of an arcane society that wants his blood. They escaped, then tried to find a diner that would service them.....
And it goes on and on like that. There's no emotion for any of the scenes, no matter the nature of the danger being faced. Both the perils of the Deep South and the unspeakable terrors of the Mythos can send shivers down one's spine. This book does neither.
3. It isn't the next Beloved. I'm a cultural historian by training. I've spent many years up to my eyeballs in the ideologies that have shaped this country into the divisive, hateful, self-important, deluded, bloodsucking thing that it (mostly but not always) is. So trust me when I say I know with a deep sincerity the scars of racial injustice in America, as much as someone can without it having been my own experience. On the literary side of things, I've read a tremendous amount of tremendous African-American literature. This is not that. This is a haphazard cobbling together of borrowed ideas watered down with nothing new or provocative added to the mix. What's written in these pages is in no way a contribution to a robust, meaningful, compelling literary history.
It's not what I expected: I expected a story that came at Lovecraft from a positive place, something that could add layers of racial dimensions that Lovecraft would not, indeed could not have thought of himself. Something to enrich the mythos, to enhance it. But it's not a bright and shining example of African-American literature. And it isn't genre fiction, by any stretch of the imagination. Which leaves us with nothing-just an empty shell of a book with Lovecraft's name on the cover.
That name, by the way, the one you would have us forget in favor of your own? That name on your cover is the only reason anyone took a second look at this book. And you would spit in his eye? Shame on you.
**New Author Goal: 11 out of 30**