I think I’ve read maybe one Lovecraft short story and didn’t particularly enjoy it but I found the concept behind this novel rather intriguing, and decided to pick it up. Of course, I then waited for over a year to read it … what can I say, as creative as I thought the approach would be, I wasn’t sure if I had enough context to enjoy it.
The novel begins in the 1950s, as Atticus Turner returns home to Chicago after a stint in the Armed Forces, only to find his estranged father missing, on a trip to New England. Atticus and his uncle George, a travel guide writer and publisher (think a fictionalized Green Book), decide to follow in his trail and see what happened to him, and his friend Letitia decides to tag along and use this opportunity to visit her brother in Massachusetts. As they discover, Montrose has been doing research into his wife’s family roots, leading him to an old secret cabal. As the last direct descendant of one of the founders, Atticus could be of use in some of their rituals – even after their initial interactions, this connection continues to haunt Atticus, his family and friends. It certainly explains why Montrose’s wife always wanted to leave the past in the past.
Since this novel follows two black families and is set in the 1950s, the fantastical aspects of this novel are a relatively small part of the fear, tension and dread in this novel. Instead, I found myself much more worried about Jim Crow and racism. Going into an unknown diner was just as, if not more, nerve racking as visiting a mysterious mansion and village in the middle of a forest in New England. Every day life was the horror as can be seen in Letitia’s reaction to a ghost in a new boarding house she opens.
I also thought the structure was interesting – I expected a regular novel, with one main character, but while the narrative and plot all tied together to deal with the Braithwaite legacy and the Cabal, each chapter was from the perspective of a different member of Atticus and Letitia’s families. As a result, it both has the feel of a short story collection and a novel. It’s only when the characters sit down together and share all the events that have been happening to them that they see how deeply this Cabal has infected their lives.
I’m not familiar enough with Lovecraft to say how it compares – there certainly are supernatural elements in this story as well as other dimensions, but to me, it was the powerlessness created by racism and Jim Crow that resonated most. As a result, I’m not sure if this would satisfy a hardcore horror fan, but for me, that added social-cultural component made it an absolutely worthwhile and fascinating read.