Humor is hard. And when it doesn’t work for you, it’s hard to know if it doesn’t work or if it just doesn’t work for you. I get the impression that this story is part of a continuing holiday tradition, with references to the back-stories of characters like the boy mummy adopted by the eccentric American family. This installment is a slapstick humorous take on Lovecraftian-style horror, complete with elder gods and uncanny rituals to summon or dismiss them. All as part of a Christmas trip to an isolated Pacific island. The humor relied in part on the premise that bratty misbehaving children are inherently funny and that adults are inherently incompetent, which is also funny. It isn’t a bad story. The writing hangs together perfectly well, it was the right length for the amount of content, and the clever twist was neither out-of-the-blue nor over-telegraphed. But in the end, it didn’t work for me as humor. And I think that’s mostly because humor is hard and very individual.
My expectations for this story were turned around several times in the course of listening to it–which is perhaps more a commentary on my tendency to set up expectations that on the story. From the title, I was first expecting a listicle story–a format I’m not entirely fond of. But although the six jobs of the story did provide the overall structure of the narrative, the through-line of the plot wasn’t the usual listicle structure.
Kayla has an unusual skill: the ability to see things that others can’t, especially connections between things. This brings her to the attention of various folks who are interested in making use of those skills, and the main thrust of the story is how Kayla turns her talents not only to making a living but to making a difference in the world as she understands it. The climax of the story depends on her rather naive tendency to believe what those other people tell her about their own purposes and goals. This is where the story expectations turned a few more times–or rather, turned one fewer time than I expected.
In the end, I wasn’t sure that Kayla had learned the right lesson about being skeptical of mysterious strangers offering her jobs, and rather than being a story about challenging first impressions, it settled for being a rather simpler quest resolution. I wanted one more twist at the end that I didn’t get. A good story, but not quite surprising enough to be a great one.
I am a huge fan of the recent trend of people deconstructing Lovecraft’s work to create new stories, particularly when those stories tackle the racism that crept through his oeuvre. “The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft” is an excellent addition to that growing collection.
Jim Payne just wants to sell his great-grandfather’s letters from Lovecraft, get his money, and go home. He has no skin in this game (beyond the desire to get out of debt), and no interest in either his great-grandfather or his famous correspondent. But when he drives down the rutted, unmarked, dirt road dotted with bestial statues, and knocks on the door of a ramshackle house in the hills of New England, it’s no surprise that things get complicated.
Everything about this story fits together nicely. Jim is a wonderful narrator: observant, wry, and with a low tolerance for bullshit, which makes it easy to follow him through his adventure. The plot itself is perfectly compressed without feeling either too big for the word count or too small to be interesting; it’s just right. I thought that the racism – both in Lovecraft’s work and in modern America – was deftly handled, but as a white woman, I defer to the judgment of those who have personally experienced it.
Recommended for fans of Lovecraft, low-key horror, or either The Ballad of Black Tom (Victor LaValle) or Lovecraft Country (Matt Ruff).