Someday, decades from now, someone is going to look through the catalog of the Field Library and wonder why there are so many novels about H. P. Lovecraft in our collection, and then they’re going to realize that those books were purchased during the time I was buying new fiction and it will all make sense.
It’s no secret that I’m a fan, not only of H. P. Lovecraft himself, but of modern works that take a slanted or sidewards look at his work and his creations. I’ve already reviewed Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches, a wonderfully book that presented Lizzy Borden’s story in the context of Lovecraftian monsters infiltrating her home, and Carter and Lovecraft, a terrific nightmare of a book involving a descendant of H. P. Lovecraft himself, and there have been others I’ve added to the library’s collection (such as Lovecraft Country, for just one instance) for the fun of it and my love of the weird word Lovecraft created. Now let’s welcome a new book, about Lovecraft himself and his somewhat bizarre life, called The Night Ocean, by Paul La Farge.
The book starts in the present, with Charlie WIllett, a man obsessed by H. P. Lovecraft and in particular a strange period of the man’s life: those two months when he was living with a teenage male fan in Florida (this particular detail is factual; Lovecraft did, uncharacteristically, spend an extended period with this person). Was this just friendship or was there something more going on between the two of them? The young man, Robert Barlow, killed himself later on when his homosexuality was revealed, so there was certainly smoke, if not fire. Charlie is on the trail of a legendary Lovecraft intimate diary, the Erotonomicon, its name a parody of the Necronomicon which figures so heavily in Lovecraft’s work. Just when he believes he’s getting close to the truth about Lovecraft, he vanishes. The police think it’s suicide, but Charlie’s wife, Marina, who’s a psychiatrist, doesn’t believe it. She sets out to follow her husband’s trail and find out what happened to him, and along the way she retraces the steps of Lovecraft himself and many others of his unusual circle of friends and acolytes.
This isn’t a biography of Lovecraft, but something subtler: a look at his life and the people he influenced, literarily and otherwise, and a study of love and deception, of the stories we believe and the stories that betray us.