The Night Ocean
by Paul LaFarge
Penguin Press. 389 pages, $27.
HORROR WRITER H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937) often used the word “queer” in his stories. Old architecture, tomes of forbidden knowledge, and unholy religious rites were all described as queer. From the context, a reader assumes he used it as an archaic synonym for “strange.”
Lovecraft’s own life might be described as queer, in both that older meaning and possibly the newer one. Although he was born into a wealthy Rhode Island family, his biography actually reads like a horror story. When he was eight, his father died in a psychiatric hospital where he had been admitted for psychosis possibly brought on by syphilis. Lovecraft’s mother also died there many years later, but not before convincing the young Lovecraft of his own hideousness and poor state of health. Lovecraft had his own nervous breakdown at the tender age of eighteen, which prevented him from completing high school and dashed his hopes of attending Brown University. When his grandfather died, he fell into poverty.