Synopsis: (as told by the back of the book)
Marina Willett, MD, has a problem. Her husband, Charlie, has become obsessed with the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and in particular with the event of the summer of 1934, when the reclusive Lovecraft lived for two months with a young fan named Robert Barlow and his family in central Florida. Lovecraft was forty-three that summer, and Barlow was sixteen. What were the two of them up to, and what did they feel for each other? Just when Charlie thinks he’s solved the puzzle, a scandal erupts, and he disappears. The police call it a suicide, but Marina doesn’t believe them.
As Marina follows her husband’s trail in an attempt to learn the truth, The Night Ocean moves across the decades and along the length of the continent, from a remote Ontario town, through New York and Lovecraft’s native Providence, to Mexico City. Along the way, we meet Lovecraft and Barlow, who went on to become a well-known authority on the civilization of the Aztecs; the Futurians, a group of brilliant young science fiction writers; William S. Burroughs; Roy Cohn; and L.C. Spinks, a kindly Canadian appliance salesman, and the only person who knows the origins of The Erotonomicon, which may be the intimate diary of Lovecraft himself.
A historical tour de force, The Night Ocean is about love and deception; it’s about the way stories earn our trust, and betray it.
This book did not live up to the mystery and intrigue promised in the synopsis. Most of it is told through flashbacks, which is not an issue in and of itself, except for the fact that Marina is the most interesting character and she only exists in the present. Marina is an extremely smart psychologist; her logical nature in juxtaposition with her husband’s passionate abandon is the most interesting source of tension in this novel. Unfortunately, it is almost completely ignored in favor of the Lovecraft – Barlow – Spinks scandal. If more time had been spent with Marina and Charlie, I might have enjoyed this novel more. Instead, we are surrounded by blundering and depressed men.
There is an overwhelming amount of names, dates, and locations introduced within the first two hundred pages. I kept thinking “I can’t wait for the exposition to end and the fun to begin.” About halfway through the book, I realized that this was the style all 400 pages would be written in.
The praise on the back of the book promises “light and laughter, “joy,” and “awe.” I did not find any of those in this novel.
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