Ring Shout is Clark’s entry in the revisionist Lovecraft genre, and I have to say, it ranks as one of my favorites by far. A novella set in Macon, Georgia, somewhen around 1922, it focuses on a band of African Americans who are doing their best to prevent the Ku Kluxes from making inroads into society. The monster, that is:
“My heart catches. The Ku Kluxes are moving! The big one sitting up, feeling at his caved-in chest. The portly one’s stirring too, looking to his missing arm. But it’s the lanky one that jumps up first, face half gone so that you can see bone showing. His good eye rolls around til it lands on me and he opens his mouth to let out a screech that ain’t no ways human. That’s when I know, things about it get bad.”
I’ve been entirely engrossed in almost everything I’ve read by Clark as I’ve made my way through his back catalog, and Ring Shout is no exception. A solid novella, it moves quickly, springing into action, then giving a bit of a breather to catch up on the world and the plot. The characters feel fleshed out enough for a novella, although I’m always left wanting more details in his stories.
Two hesitations. One character speaks in a Gullah accent, which is serious work to parse out. I’ve noticed it tends to be confusing for my non-American born reader friends. Honestly, friends–it’s confusing for the American ones too, so you aren’t alone. Secondly, there’s a psychological angle that was kept as a late ‘reveal’ that was somewhat underwhelming for both Nataliya and I. I’m not saying I want more horror, but it seemed boilerplate, which I do not expect from Clark.
Clark has done something very, very clever here, and I’ll have to put much of it under spoilers, but suffice it to say that he’s also snuck in here a ton of reader education about Black American issues and Black American history. I’m particularly history impaired, and I had to rely on my fabulous co-reader Nataliya and Google because I wasn’t quite sure what was actual history and what was made up.
How twisted is that?
Read it if you are into eldritch horror, urban fantasy, time-period fantasy, Kindred, or a whole host of other books I’ll probably have to add later as memory permits. I’m calling it slightly less than 5 stars at the moment for technical reasons–my 5 stars tend to be re-reads, and I’m not entirely sure I want to re-read this one soon. Like Connolly, it’s challenging and powerful, but not a comfort read.