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Mariconda, Steven J. H. P. Lovecraft: Art, Artifact, and Reality.

Mariconda, Steven J. H. P. Lovecraft: Art, Artifact, and Reality. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2013. 308 pp. Paperback. ISBN 978-1-61498-064-3. $20.00.

With H. P. Lovecraft: Art, Artifact, and Reality, independent scholar Steven J. Mariconda assembles three decades' worth of his articles and reviews in order, on the one hand, to dissolve enduring misconceptions concerning H. P. Lovecraft's weird fiction and, on the other, to celebrate and challenge the work of other leading scholars in the field. It is important to note that much of the material contained within these pages first appeared in a variety of now-defunct fanzines, making this a noteworthy and convenient collection worth owning for anyone invested in horror fan culture. Mariconda's volume adopts a tripartite structure with special attention paid to the author's prose style and his philosophy involving a "materialistic conception of a purposeless universe governed by a fixed and only partially knowable set of laws" (27).

Following a brief introduction, the first section, entitled "General Studies," contains many finely tuned articles arguing in defense of Lovecraft's style. Mariconda's original and meticulously researched readings of the author's stories, poems, essays, and letters constitute the most compelling and useful segment of the book. The second section, "Essays on Specific Works," includes a series of mostly self-contained readings of Lovecraft's artistic output. The quality of these essays is generally quite good, and there are a few quite captivating readings. In the third section, "Reviews," Mariconda compiles a multitude of his own reviews of some of the most important critical texts in the field; although this section drags a bit, it is nonetheless an excellent resource for newcomers and veterans alike. While Mariconda gives no real rationale for the book's tripartite set-up, the arrangement does permit a gradual percolation of key concepts, effectively reproducing Lovecraft's prose style of gradual, creeping doom, and thus embodying a kind of metafictional approach appropriate to any reading of the American author's unique brand of cosmic horror.

The first half of "General Studies" is neatly conceived, instructive, and packed with exciting ideas. For Mariconda, "the problem of style in the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft is the primary problem of Lovecraft" (13). In "H. P. Lovecraft: Consummate Prose Stylist" (1982), he responds to criticisms of Lovecraft's verbosity by providing a nuanced survey of the author's intent, chronological development, approach, and technique. Mariconda admirably rises to the occasion, too, arguing that Lovecraft's emphasis on creeping atmosphere and cosmic doom necessitates an idiosyncrasy deeply imbricated in eighteenth-century prose mannerisms and determined by the very effects he aimed to engender in his readers. To this end, he finds an elegant balance between Lovecraft's essays and letters, providing illustrative examples in the form of carefully chosen passages from the author's oeuvre. Mariconda further argues--in "Lovecraft's Concept of 'Background'" (1986)--that Lovecraft's embrace of the New England local color he found so comforting plays an important role in highlighting through contrast the horror of an aimless, inconceivable, and ultimately indifferent cosmos. In the path-breaking "Toward a Reader-Response Approach to the Lovecraft Mythos" (1995), Mariconda surmounts the emphasis placed on the Mythos at the expense of the stories themselves, arguing instead for an approach that privileges the way in which readers of Weird Tales magazine originally experienced the pantheon of Mythos-related entities. This article contains a painstakingly constructed appendix of these elements and their appearances throughout the Weird Tales era and forms an invaluable resource for Lovecraft scholars.

Having set the stage for a deeper exploration of Lovecraft's cosmic abyss, the remaining articles within "General Studies" are both wildly inventive and undeniably gripping. They are also the most dexterous entries in this volume and should be of use to a variety of disciplines. "Lovecraft's Cosmic Imagery" (1991) might be the finest article contained here, elucidating the importance of kaleidoscopic imagery to Lovecraft's fiction. Mariconda's perceptive analysis of the author's rhetorical use of menacing sound, asymmetry, and non-Euclidean geometry is of particular importance to contemporary art and media theory. The essay "H. P. Lovecraft: Art, Artifact, and Reality" (1995) examines Lovecraft's use of human and non-human artifacts in an assortment of stories in order to delineate an aesthetic theory unique to the author's alien vistas. This article is suitable for those interested in post-humanist studies and in theories of non-human perception. "H. P. Lovecraft: Reluctant American Modernist" (2001) investigates Lovecraft's ambivalent relationship with American Modernism and concludes that fears about technology and urban life play central roles in the author's fiction. By boldly positioning him within a Modernist framework, Mariconda further refutes misconstructions of Lovecraft as a pulp hack, and the essay is thus of definite interest to scholars of both Lovecraft and Modernism.

Building upon the book's excellent first section, "Essays on Specific Works" features close readings that focus on a range of Lovecraft's stories. Generally, these pieces are sensitive, discerning, and well worth reading. "The Subversion of Sense in 'The Colour out of Space'" (1989) is, however, the obvious standout. Mariconda is at his best when he engages the text itself, displaying a peerless understanding of the literary strategies employed by Lovecraft in his attempts to induce syntactical paradox and linguistic terror. At the other end of the spectrum, "Curious Myths of the Middle Ages and 'The Rats in the Walls'" (1983) is a bit run-of-the-mill, merely teasing out the connections and similarities between the book and the story. While indisputably keen-sighted, the entries that rely too heavily on Lovecraft's letters and essays show their age and lack the critical energy of Mariconda's more unrestrained efforts. "Tightening the Coil: The Revision of 'The Whisperer in Darkness'" (1995), however, is an example of Mariconda successfully locating an equilibrium between biography and fiction. Here he considers the various revisions Lovecraft made to "The Whisperer in Darkness" (1931) before its first publication in Weird Tales in an effort to explicate the Rhode Island author's belief in editorial modulation. Mariconda's expert handling of statements made in letters, essays, and the story itself provides valuable insight that invites reassessment of one of the author's less plausible stories.

The remainder of the book brings together a wide range of Mariconda's reviews of some of the most influential texts in the field, including Maurice Levy's Lovecraft: A Study in the Fantastic (1988), Donald R. Burleson's Lovecraft: Disturbing the Universe (1990), and S. T. Joshi's H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West (1990). Mariconda also provides coverage of Joshi's textually corrected trilogy of Lovecraft's fiction and a slew of reviews centered on the author's essays, poems, and letters. He remains insightful and analytical throughout these evaluations, often challenging the other critics, and thus offers a handy resource for scholars of Lovecraft specifically and of weird fiction more broadly.

In reading these reviews, it becomes evident that Mariconda's book is also a commemorative piece, applauding the vast amount of work done by other scholars in their efforts to save Lovecraft from the brink of literary obscurity. Indeed, Lovecraft's weird fiction has drawn a great deal of scholarly interest over the past three decades, with many critics, new and old, developing theories of cosmic horror in an effort to understand one of America's most important and most disputed horror writers. Mariconda's forthright approach and lucid style form a useful addition to the surfeit of scholarly material already available. Speaking to the book's accessibility and playfulness, "Anodyne Amusing Appendix" follows "Reviews," containing entries like "Top Ten Worst Potential Lovecraft Fanzine Names Culled from the Fiction" and "A Real Hard Lovecraft Trivia Quiz." It is only fitting, then, that Mariconda concludes his book with a personal anecdote describing his first reading experiences of Lovecraft, including a hilarious apology to an eighth-grade friend stuck with the unenviable task of speaking aloud a vertiginous passage from "Under the Pyramids" during an in-class presentation. In sum, H. P. Lovecraft: Art, Artifact, and Reality provides an ambitious assessment of Lovecraft's weird fiction and is an excellent capstone to three decades of Mariconda's Lovecraft scholarship.
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Author:Matharoo, Sean
Publication:Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2015
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