Book Discussion : Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff with the Bookforager


Last year Mayri and I read buddy-read Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh together and we had so much fun that we decided that we needed to read more books together! 😀 Our first buddy-read of the year was Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff, a series of interconnected Lovecraftian tales following the members of a black family who are trying their best to live as well as they can during the Jim Crow era.

Since we had a lot of things to say about this book, our discussion is split into two parts. You can read the first part here and I highly recommend that you check the second half of the discussion on Mayri’s blog the Bookforager.

Pre-Read Questions

I know we have both started this book but I thought it would be nice to talk about our expectations. Do you have any? What made you want to read the book? Have you read any Lovecraft?

Maryam: I didn’t really have any sort of expectations regarding the book but I have heard great things about it since its release. I didn’t know a lot about it (I didn’t even know it was set during the Jim Crow era!) but I have read a bunch of amazing Lovecraft-inspired stories (Ring Shout, Beneath the Rising, The Ballad of Black Tom) in the last few years and I would like to see another take on Lovecraftian horror. 

I have only read one Lovecraft story (I think it was called The Tomb) and to be honest, knowing he was a racist dude, I don’t think I will read other works by him.

I also have to mention that I would like to watch the HBO show but since I’m a “read the book before watching the show” snob, I will probably watch it after our buddy read!

Mayri: I thought this book looked interesting when I first saw it at the library, but was wary of reading it because …  Lovecraft. I’ve only tried to read one Lovecraft story (a long while ago and I don’t remember what it was called), but I hated his writing so much I DNF’d it. Later I found out he was an objectionable scrap of humanity too, and that put an end to that. 

But, as you’ve mentioned Maryam,  there’s quite a lot of great writing about now that’s riffing on Lovecraft’s ideas,  and I find that interesting. So, when I saw HBO had made a series of this book, I thought maybe I really would give it a go. Although I still felt conflicted about Lovecraft Country being by a white writer. Don’t know how to explain that feeling really.

(And I’m a total snob right along with you there – I won’t watch until I’ve read!!)

Book Discussion

Did the format of the book work well for you?

Maryam: I love reading short stories but I wasn’t expecting this structure and it kind of threw me off at first but it ended up working very well once I got used to it! As you mentioned before, I liked the elements that connected the stories and it managed to put the spotlight on several characters, allowing us to come to know their life, dreams and ambitions. 

Mayri: I hadn’t realised it was going to be like this before we started reading, but I found that I really liked it. I felt like it gave Ruff space to explore different aspects of Jim Crow America: in the first story we saw what it was like for a black person to travel any distance and the dangers and terrors they faced doing ordinary things like taking a comfort break or stopping to eat. In the second story we learn about how the property market worked very differently for a black prospective home-owner. It’s not set up to be as subject-per-story as I’m making that sound, I know, but he includes so many little details about how everyday life was dramatically skewed for a black person and I think the structure perhaps made that more obvious to me.

So yeah, I actually ended up really liking the format Ruff uses. It made what I thought was going to be an intimidating book much easier to read than I expected.

What do you think about this book?

Maryam: I had a great time reading this book for several reasons. First of all, it was a very engaging read and while it made me angry a lot because most of the (if not all!!) white characters were THE ABSOLUTE WORST, I loved the characters and reading their stories. 

Mayri: Oh my goodness, I know, right? Having every single white character be an absolute sh*t made the daily terror of being black palpable.

Maryam: Also, I learned a lot about the Jim Crow era. I didn’t know how complicated everything was for black people at the time, even traveling at night was a possible death sentence!! And also, I didn’t know how hard it was for them to buy property (which is probably why Letitia preferred to fight a ghost than move from her house!).

I have two issues with this book, the first one is pretty minor really but the ending was a bit underwhelming. Everything happened quickly and after the amazing build-up, it fell kind of flat for me. I enjoyed the epilogue way more than the actual ending. My second issue is that I don’t know how to feel with the fact this book was written by a white author and I’m uncomfortable with how he decided to deal with some aspects of this book. 

Mayri: I concur with both your issues. That last chapter/story before the epilogue felt incredibly rushed. After the slow-build it was a bit of a fizzle, especially because Caleb didn’t appear to be that difficult to defeat. His final threat was so empty too, in the end he really had no idea who he was talking to. Hmm … I wonder if that was the point? All the supernatural stuff in the book seems easier to deal with than the racism our characters face every day – as you said, Letitia preferred to lock horns with a ghost than move house. At the end, Caleb really isn’t that much of a threat, but the Turners, Berrys and Dandridges will still have to deal with Jim Crow America for the rest of their lives.

Who are your favorite characters and why?

Maryam: The ladies of course! 😀 Letitia, Hyppolyta and Ruby were the highlight of the story for me and their chapters were by far my favorites!

Mayri: Heck yes! Hippolyta was my absolute favourite – I really liked her quiet determination and I appreciated that she was more of an introverted sort who needed time away from people. I’m always glad to see characters like that. I loved Letitia’s bravery and ability to speak up and speak out, but Hippolyta would be the one I’d want to talk to. 

Who are your least favourite characters?

Mayri: I’ve added this question in because I want to talk briefly about Montrose. There are far worse characters in this book than him, and I don’t particularly dislike him because we understand how he’s grown into the man that he is, but he was a problem for me all the same. I grew up with a father very like Montrose. Someone for whom violence is the surest way of making themselves heard. Someone very angry. And I think the reason we can see beyond Montrose’s quite difficult personality is because there is damage – and that has led to his way of dealing with the world. I think this is quite well shown in Montrose’s character, in who he chooses to push about and in his memories of his dad.

And I hated every single cop in this book. They’re a monstrous breed here, with no redeeming features.

What about you, Maryam? Anyone who you didn’t like/hated?

Maryam: I can’t say that I hated any characters (except the racist cops and maybe the old Braithwhaite, Caleb’s father) but I also struggled with Montrose. In a way, I can understand his actions and his feelings towards white people but still, I think that by trying to protect his son, he just built a wall between him and Atticus. I think a lot of their father-son issues could have been helped or even solved by discussions but, Montrose never tries to explain himself or his actions. As readers, we can see that he tries to protect Atticus but Atticus only sees his dad as someone who is never there to support him and who punishes him violently when they disagree. Even when Montrose tried to show Atticus that Lovecraft isn’t really a writer that Atticus should like, he does it in a way that only aggravates his son.

Mayri: Absolutely. You’re spot on when you say that discussion could have solved so much, but he never explains himself. Ruff did a very good job with Montrose, I think.

If you want to know more about our thoughts (and they are many, many more to come), please check out Mayri’s post where we discuss (among other things) white authors writing black characters, #OwnVoices stories and… if we recommend this book or not! 😀

I had such a great time reading this book with Mayri and I hope you enjoyed reading our discussion! Have you read Lovecraft Country? Have you seen the show? We would love to know all your thoughts about this book. 🙂

7 thoughts on “Book Discussion : Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff with the Bookforager

  1. To me the good was good at being a time piece but it never really gave me that cosmic horror feel so to speak like other authors of cosmic horror do. Great 👍 book for someone who is curious about the genre or wants a taste of what it has to offer with added historical struggles

    Liked by 1 person

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