Lovecraft is a master at crafting sentences. His vocabulary is superabundant and he almost always paints a wonderful picture—when he isn’t describing something as “indescribably” evil or awful or ugly, which he does fucking constantly. In spite of his tendency to describe something that’s supposed to be spooky as “indescribable” he certainly can create an interesting world for his characters to inhabit. He is, perhaps, better at describing an unsettling world than he is an unsettling being or character.
He is also, it is worth noting, stunningly and arrestingly racist. I had never known one could go so far out of one’s way to be so stupendously Nordicist. In a story otherwise about a haunted castle—for lack of a better way of describing it—he named the black cat “[N-word]-Man.” Not even some lesserly racist term. In almost every short story in the collection he finds a new and interesting way to demean the physicality, habits, thoughts, very beings of non-WASPs. In this he is unfailing and I suppose credit is due for at least being consistent.
But there is more to criticize than just his bald-faced racism. In a few of the stories the main character is a complaining, miserable dickhead who the reader (me) would prefer rather to strangle than listen to for the next 4-10 pages. These characters seem to be put upon by living in the proletarian world and would be much more at home in some Boston Brahmin luxuriousness. All of his characters hate New York City in the way that Hamilton Nolan hates Not-New-York-City. Just whiners, the lot of them.
At the absolute least I have to commend the publisher (Penguin) for the quality of the book. The deckled edges are a wonderful touch. As is the quality of the artwork. They put out 12 books in this collection. I assume the other 11 don’t constantly call black people “apes” and make mocking note of Hispanic accents. For instance, you could pick up a copy of Don DeLillo’s White Noise in the Penguin Orange collection and read what is perhaps the finest book on the planet.
But like I said he writes pretty words and pretty sentences. So, if you can look past racism—or are a racist yourself—go ahead and pick up a copy of HP Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories” today.