Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Lovecraft Country

Lovecraft CountryLovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A novel presented in short stories/novellas, Lovecraft Country follows the Green/Turner families as they become entangled in their American heritage as descendants of slaves & whites who worshiped Lovecraftian tentacle monsters.

Right up front, I will say that I did not finish this book–I had two chapters until the end & I gave up. Not because there is really anything bad in the book; the narrative never elevated itself beyond the big ideas it sketches out. What if a black man was heir to a coven of racist old white dudes? What if a black woman could live out their fantasies of social freedom (whatever that looks like) if only for a limited time? What if you swapped stories about your painful past with a ghost who was trapped in a painful present? These are all good, interesting ideas but there was some heart or substance missing out of exploring them. Ultimately, I think when Jordan Peele adapts this into a movie or miniseries, the stories will fit into his directorial interests, so read the book now as prep & wait with anticipation.

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Thoughts

An Everyday Stranger

Woodford PO
Woodford, VA

The closest post office that would accept our passport applications would not see us until our scheduled appointment in June.  In fact, most of the post offices within a 30-mile radius required appointments & while that did not surprise me, the length of time until our appointment did.  There were only two post offices that had walk-up service & both were small buildings located in the middle of nowhere.

So, impatient & high-strung creature that I am, I got directions to the Woodford Post Office & we headed out on a rainy day.  The building was located somewhere between Thornburg & Bowling Green & we drove narrow, curvy country roads slowly, since the roads were slick & the bends were blind.  We drove past older homes with DIY parking lots filled with fresh gravel & a slew of various cars as well as wild parcels of land that had overgrown logging trails & were flooded at every flat place.  It was hard to imagine anyone turning those pieces of land into anything profitable. It was also hard to imagine that we would see bold-faced RESIST signs lurching from the treeline not far from a home flying a Confederate flag, but that we saw proof of as we inched along.

Woodford Railroad Crossing
Across the street from the Woodford Post Office

As we approached the railroad crossing, the only sign that we were anywhere close to our destination was three greying buildings.  As we slowed, hoping to see some street sign, the entry for the post office popped out behind a stand of sagging wet trees.  We turned & soon found ourselves inside one of the smallest & tidiest post offices I’d ever seen.  It reminded me a lot of the Hartwood Post Office, which had the functional-but-idealistic vibe of New Deal architecture & was also small but tenaciously holding onto its surrounding community.

The woman behind the counter was eager enough to help us, but she only had one question: did we have our pictures with us?  When we said yes, she sighed in relief, “Good, our camera’s been out of film & I’m still waiting to be restocked.”  She processed our forms efficiently, telling us genially that she’d been doing applications for a year & that we really had made the right choice to go with the passport book instead of the card.  “I know its cheaper, but say you’re on a cruise & the boat breaks down.  When they come to get everybody, you won’t be able to go if they’re flying everyone home.  That card is for North American travel only & they won’t make exceptions for you.”  I had to admit I had not thought of this.

Then she came to the place on the form where the dates & destination of travel were listed.  We had left them blank because the band we had planned to see in Canada hadn’t announced its dates or its venues yet.  My husband, more inclined to small talk than I, explained this & when he mentioned that they don’t hardly tour in the United States, she asked who we were going to see.  “Matthew Good,” I said.

Oh,” she replied, clear that she didn’t know who that was, “I was hoping you’d say Rush; I love them.”  My husband & I replied at the same time that we’d seen them in Bristow a few years back.  We talked over each other a bit & I debated mentally whether or not to mention that he’d hated it & had only gone for me, much like this upcoming trip to see Matt Good.  “I’ve seen Rush too,” she said, trying to remember, “When was it?”

I hazarded a guess, “2012?  Clockwork Angels?”

She smiled—a wide, bright smile, “Yeah!  Yeah, you’re right, it was in Bristow.  Oh my god, they were so good!  It was the first time I saw them live.”

“Me too!” I said & we all joked about the scarcity of women at a Rush concert & what were the odds, y’know?  The rest of the paperwork process got a bit lighter & she was patient with us & our questions as she went over the various payment options & expected wait times.  I don’t think any of us wanted to waste this small moment of shared goodwill.

When everything was done, we all cheerfully said our goodbyes & my husband & I headed back out into the drizzling rain, trying to decide how to head home.  “I wonder what its like to work here,” I said as we waited for a train to slowly finish its crossing.  “Do you think its boring or that its peaceful?”

“Its probably boring,” he said, “I mean, its even smaller & more isolated than where we live & you know how it is there.”

I stared out the window & thought Maybe.  But I was also thinking about the Rush concert, where we had sat in a row with some other ladies & at the end, after we had danced & cheered & sang along with nearly every song, one of them had turned to me & said, “God, that was so fun! It’s nice to be near someone who knows how to enjoy a show!”  I thought about power chords echoing out over the overgrown fields.  And I thought, I bet you at least have a few stories at the end of the day.

Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Winter Tide

Winter Tide (The Innsmouth Legacy, #1)Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Aphra Marsh is one of the three types of humans; she is a daughter of the water & an Aeonist who believes in the cosmology of the Old Ones. Her people have fared badly in the United States, having had their communities raided & families sent to concentration camps. Now, as WWII ends & the Cold War begins, Aphra is recruited by the US Government to investigate any possibility that the Russians may have learned forbidden Aeonist magic–a weapon even more frightening than the nuclear arsenal both nations have at hand. For Aphra, this means returning to her destroyed hometown & recovering what she can of her past life.

I picked this book up on a whim from my library, mainly because I recognized John Jude Palencar’s cover art. When I also saw that Tide included deep references to Lovecraft, I started reading him at the same time so I wouldn’t be lost. However, I soon found myself much more interested in Aphra’s story. If interested readers have played any of the Fallen London games, they’ll find Emrys’s rearranged America familiar–even enjoyable with examples like a Harvard-like school that is the best place to learn Enochian & other esoteric pursuits. Tide is also driven more by its events & locales than by its characters. On the plus side, this approach keeps readers’ interest engaged. On the negative side, there are numerous characters to keep track of & frequently do not become more than a list of traits (gay, Jewish, patriotic or Black, multi-lingual, cynical).

But, the thing that Emrys does well is emphasize the community-building & empathetic insights that her characters have with one another. The ultimate subversion to Lovecraft here is that this book about social misfits learning to trust & help one another, not retreat, secretly think themselves vastly superior, or wander so far up their own assholes that you wonder why you, the reader, are even paying attention. (& you are probably starting to guess why I put the original Lovecraft on the back burner.) Tide is a good, engaging start to a larger series & I’m hoping the narrative kinks will be worked out as Emrys continues to explore her take on the Lovecraftian world.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: The Bone People

The Bone PeopleThe Bone People by Keri Hulme

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A deeply impressionistic novel about three outcasts in New Zealand who find each other & slowly grow into a family.

From now on, if anyone asks me for stuff similar to Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake, Bone People will be my first recommendation. There are some basic plot similarities, such as the intersections between European & Maori, urban & rural/Aboriginal lifestyles. There is also a child in danger & a community around it that knows about the trouble but has convinced itself to look the other way. But where Lake gestures to the metaphysical, People fully incorporates mystical influence into its story, making the story seem more like another iteration of a folk tale or mythological story. Echoes abound in Bone People, especially around the character Simon, & creates plenty of tension & wariness simply by hinting at or distorting what is or isn’t said. (I spent a good portion of the book suspecting Joseph of even worse actions than what is portrayed.)

To sum up, a language-heavy book that excels more at atmosphere than plot. Kerewin never totally overcomes her perfect persona tendencies & Joseph’s redemption is a little too pat, but the author’s artistry is still compelling.

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