I adored the Matt Ruff novel Lovecraft Country back when it released in 2016. The compelling concoction of two kinds of horrors — one otherworldly and the other depressingly quotidian (everyday racism against black people), sensitively drawn African-American characters and empathetic depiction of the black culture made for a highly readable piece of literature.
It was also slightly plodding in parts. The Misha Green-created TV adaptation of the novel snips off the fluff to conceive a world that is both gripping and bleak. Like Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen last year, Lovecraft Country keeps the black experience in the Jim Crow America in front and centre.
Lovecraft Country is about Jonathan Majors’ Atticus Freeman (Atticus Turner in the novel), a veteran of the Korean War, who is called to Chicago by his father Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams — Omar Little of The Wire), who claims in a letter that he has finally found something about the ancestry of Atticus’ mother. Her ancestry was a major bone of contention between father and son. Montrose was obsessed with finding where his wife came from, while Atticus wanted him to let it go.
Atticus comes back to find his father missing. With his uncle George (Courtney B Vance) and childhood friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett), he reluctantly goes on a road trip to Ardham, Massachusetts, which his father’s letter said is the place of origin of his mother’s family.
The first episode’s title, Sundown, refers to Sundown towns, which in those days, were all-white regions in the States that barred non-whites from being out on the streets after sunset.
If Lovecraft Country is one thing, it is blunt. There is no sanitisation here of the reality and even more than Watchmen, this series is true to life on a granular level. To be fair to Watchmen, that DC Comics adaptation also had an entire mythology of superheroes to contend with, and while Lovecraft Country does delve into Lovecraftian lore a little bit, its main emphasis remains on the daily humiliation, violence, persecution that white Americans inflicted on African-Americans just because of the colour of their skin.
Even though Lovecraft Country is a period piece, it is still relevant. A good chunk of what Atticus, George and Letitia go through in the pilot episode is a daily reality for millions across America in the present day.