January 2022 Book Club: Lovecraft Country

Cover art for Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff.

Lovecraft Country was an interesting book to ring the new year in with. For starters, it wasn’t the horror book that I thought it would be based on the first episode of the HBO show that I watched. There were no crazy monsters that went bump in the night (although there are definitely some horror scenes!), only a strange organization of Alchemists that somehow possessed magic powers.

As I read each section of Lovecraft Country, I had a hard time following the timeline of events. Where they meant to be short stories that were independent of each other? Connected only in that they were dealing with the same man? It wasn’t until the characters got together to discuss what had been happening to them that I realized the change in narration was designed to illustrate that these things were all happening more or less at the same time after the initial trip to Ardham.

Many of these stories are based around the concept of how getting what you want doesn’t always happen in the way you want it. Atticus begins our tale with a subtle desire to live in a Lovecraft novel and to find his father, who wanted to understand where his wife came from. Both of these desires were the catalyst for our story, so it’s interesting that they spend time ignoring what happened to them despite the clear meddling from Braithwhite. They want to be left alone from the legacy that was left them, which does eventually happen (although getting to that place is a process).

Letitia, one of my favorite characters, wants to leave her mark on this world and is determined to do so since the first page we’re introduced to her. When she comes into some money from a mysterious benefactor, it’s no surprise that it’s used to purchase an apartment building in a white neighborhood. A part of me was even left to wonder if Letitia would have been as interested in doing so if it didn’t also come with the label of “pioneer”. On the one hand, Letitia got what she wanted. On the other hand, she needed to stand her ground and navigate owning a haunted house. Letitia’s story is one of determination and grit, one that you want to succeed from the beginning.

Ruby’s story provides the most insight into how people of color were (and sometimes, unfortunately, still are) treated. You can’t help but feel angry for her as she loses her job because someone else stole a pair of earrings and intrigued when she’s able to try on a different face. Ruby wanted power over her life and Braithwhite gave it to her. This was one of the few relationships in the book were Braithwhite was being used as much as he was doing the using and the cost was “only” lying to those around her and believing Braithwhite when he told her that she was keeping Delilah alive.

Ruby’s story is about being self aware of yourself and your surroundings. It’s hard to recognize the privilege that comes with the color of your skin as you observe through Ruby’s eyes what it’s like to interact with a police officer as Hillary. How easy it is to manipulate the men and women around her because they believe that she can do no wrong as Hillary. Ruby wanted freedom and power over her own life, it broke my heart that in order to get those things she had to physically change who she was.

Ruff also takes us through a desire to begin to set things right (the ledger of owed back wages and interest), a desire to discover (the teleporter), and a desire to protect your family (the devil doll, and the trip to meet the Winthrop ghosts). Each of these desires demonstrates how you have to decide between what you want and what you need, all the while taking advantage of the experience (minus the devil doll story, poor Horace).

Lovecraft Country is brought to a cinematic end once each character shares their stories with each other and it becomes clear that Braithwhite is a problem. Perhaps the most poetic part of the tale, Braithwhite loses his powers to the people he manipulated and we are left to assume that he will spend his days trying to get back into an organization that will no longer take him due to the new color of his skin.

Knowing that the show has altered the story’s events, I haven’t decided if I’ll finish it. That being said, I’m glad I picked up Lovecraft Country and stuck it out to the end, it was a fun read.

The icy January winds have me daydreaming of warmer days, so for February’s book let’s step into the pages of The Henna Artist, which takes place in the city of Jaipur during the 1950s.

Cover art for the Henna Artist by Alka Joshi.

Escaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the most highly requested henna artist—and confidante—to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own…

Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow—a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does.

December Book Club: Station Eleven

Cover art for Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

If I had to summarize Station Eleven for someone while only having read the first few chapters, I would describe it as what it would be like to be a part of a traveling Symphony in a post pandemic world where most of the population dies. Now that it’s in my “read” pile, I think a better summary would need to include how one person can shape and connect the lives of many.

Arthur was not a great person, he cheated on his wives and had a hard time prioritizing the right things. Towards the end of his life, more than one person described him as if he was acting off camera/stage. It was as though during his pursuit of happiness, Arthur lost himself and his understanding of what could really make him happy. This isn’t to say that Arthur was a bad man, he had a way of genuinely caring about people and wanting to support them. No, Arthur’s issue seemed to stem from not really knowing what was important when it was important and a misguided quest for what happiness really was.

Despite dying early in the book, Arthur’s life shaped the story of the many characters that we encountered throughout Station Eleven. In some ways, this was for the better. Clark found himself realizing that he had been sleep walking his way through life after having dinner with Arthur shortly after his death. Kirsten turned to Arthur for comfort during her childhood and found herself comforted still by the comics that he gifted her. Miranda came into her own. Jeevan learned that he did in fact want to become an EMT (and eventually became a doctor).

In other ways, Arthur caused a lot of chaos in the new world by not being a good father to his son Tyler. You can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Arthur hadn’t missed so many of Tyler’s birthdays or had been able to move to Jerusalem before the pandemic. Would Tyler have learned to cling to the bible the way that he did? Would he have a world view to balance his mothers? If so, imagine how many people would have lived more peaceful lives.

Another thing that Station Eleven did was point out that there will always be people that try to support and grow from each other. People who do their best to take the ugly and make something beautiful. Just as there will always be people who are unable to see past the ugly, and it’s not that these people are lesser than the first group of people (although you do wish they’d rise to the occasion!), it’s that their version of doing the best that they can isn’t as outward facing. Where some are able to turn to others and raise them up, others are barely able to put their own oxygen masks on.

Station Eleven is what I wanted from The Stand. A story about people putting the pieces back together after trauma and learning how to move forward. There was just enough description of the pandemic to understand what has happening without the feeling of “ok I get it, everyone is dying”. I had a lot of reservations about reading this book in the middle of a pandemic, but honestly the pandemic was simply the spark that started this story.

Last October, I poured over a bunch of horror books and added them to my to-read list. Not because of Halloween (although maybe), but because I found myself rereading The Shinning yet again. Since adding Lovecraft Country to my to-read list it has become a show on HBO and the trailer reminded me that I should read it. I have not seen the show beyond episode one, so I’m coming into the story with a set of (mostly) unbias eyes.

Cover art for Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff.

The critically acclaimed cult novelist makes visceral the terrors of life in Jim Crow America and its lingering effects in this brilliant and wondrous work of the imagination that melds historical fiction, pulp noir, and Lovecraftian horror and fantasy.

Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, twenty-two year old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned Atticus’s great grandmother—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.

At the manor, Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal named the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb—which has gathered to orchestrate a ritual that shockingly centers on Atticus. And his one hope of salvation may be the seed of his—and the whole Turner clan’s—destruction.

A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of one black family, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.