"I Am Providence" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by Night Shade Books
Written by Nick Mamatas
2016, 256 pages, Fiction
Released on August 9th, 2016
Nick Mamatas’ I Am Providence is one of the most ironic, self-aware, uncannily mirthful, and unabashedly disenchanted love/hate letters you will ever read. More than merely poking fun or celebrating Lovecraftiana and its plethora of characters and problematic issues, Mamatas deconstructed the man, the myth, and the scene that sprouted like an unstoppable, ever-growing fungus around his corpse and his mythos and built a hilarious, smart literary golem that tackles everything from the inside workings and ego-based nature of (micro)indie publishing and online drama to the racism and sexism that plague the scene.
I Am Providence follows Colleen Danzig, a vegan horror author with green hair who’s struggling to get her work out there as she attends the Summer Tentacular, a popular annual convention held in Providence, R.I. that deals with all things Lovecraft. Colleen understands the convention scene and plans to try to make some connections and suffer through a few panels before hitting the bar, which is where the real action is. To save money, she shares a room with Panos Panossian, a more established author and polarizing figure in Lovecraftiana. Colleen’s plans, along with the dynamic of the convention, change abruptly when Panossian is murdered and his face removed. Colleen decides to investigate the brutal murder and mutilation, and that only makes the rest of the attendees even more nervous. Meanwhile, Panossian tries to recall his moment of death from the morgue, and his overactive brain offers readers a series of eloquent, funny, rambling, and surprisingly reflective monologues about everything from death itself to the work of H.P. Lovecraft and his much-debated racism and anti-Semitism.
Mamatas is one of those few authors who pull off interesting literature while simultaneously cultivating a stimulating online presence (and by stimulation I mean some people love him and some would love to bathe in his blood). He is vocal about his opinions, not afraid to engage with trolls, and, more importantly, well informed about anything he decides to discuss. In a way, I Am Providence is the best example of all these elements put together and turned into top-notch entertaining literature with a side of meta. The novel is a fun, mysterious read packed with wittiness, but it’s also a scathing critique of Lovecraft apologists, the discourse of the racists that populate the Lovecraftian scene, and the silly ongoing online debates about the merit of Lovecraft’s work when framed by his bigotry and awkwardness. By taking on the man and those who defend him at all costs, Mamatas has probably made a lot of new enemies, and the authenticity the narrative exudes will probably do more of the same as more people read the book. No one is safe, and the way the author describes Lovecraftians is at the heart of what makes I Am Providence an uncomfortable read for many and a must-read for everyone:
“It’s true. Lovecraftians in particular are a bunch of misfits and social defectives. It started with the old man himself, who was crippled by neuroses so huge that he had no choice but to become a genius at what he did. Lovecraft’s short stories, so widely distributed in grade school libraries because they contained zero sex and only the merest suggestions of violence, were like cheese in a mousetrap. Boys, almost all boys, too fat or awkward or arrogant for sports, and not actually bright enough to achieve top ranks find their ways to the darkest corners and dustiest shelves, and there Lovecraft is waiting.”
The serious critiques interwoven into the narrative should not be deterrents for those who don’t care for Mythos fiction or for whom the Lovecraftians are an unknown group. I Am Providence is a murder mystery beautifully developed within the confines of a hotel/convention and a metaphysical horror novel with a dead character that ends up being more interesting and engaging than the living characters in most bestselling contemporary fiction despite being disliked even by his own tribe. It’s also a scholarly takedown of a literary figure that has become a movement:
“Let’s be clear—Lovecraft was an anti-Semite. He wasn’t an anti-Semite for his time, he wasn’t an anti-Semite only before his marriage to Sonia Greene, he wasn’t an anti-Semite until he learned about the horrors of Nazism, he was an anti-Semite from beginning to end. The man hated the fucking Jews.”
The best thing about I Am Providence is that every move is calculated. For example, for anyone slightly familiar with Lovecraftiana, some of the characters in the novel will quickly bring to mind well-known authors. Similarly, Mamatas uses Lovracraft’s own words whenever the criticism touches on themes that usually erupt into longwinded Facebook threads, and that’ probably the worst thing about the narrative for racist fanatics. As a bonus, there are self-aware passages that border on metafiction and let attentive readers know nothing in the novel is an accident:
“The problem with Lovecraft’s admiration for Hitler is that bad people like me kept bringing it up. That was the locus of the controversy over Lovecraft’s racial views. You could agree with Lovecraft, be an actual racist and admirer of Hitler, and float along on the fringes of the subculture for decades. Make a repeated stink about it, and you end up on a slab.”
Ultimately, what Mamatas has done is write a novel that’s also a guide to an entire subculture. Furthermore, he has proven once again that he is one of the most versatile authors out there. For a long time, my three favorite Mamatas books were Northern Gothic, Bullettime, and Love is the Law, all of which are very different and I highly recommend picking up if you haven’t done so yet. More recently, The Last Weekend and I Am Providence have joined that group. These recent additions occupy a very different and infinitely more hilarious territory; they are sharp and strong, but also universally enjoyable and very appraochable (yeah, not everyone wants to analyze texts while reading). I Am Providence can be enjoyed in a variety of ways and for a wide range of reasons, and finding yours can only be accomplished through reading, so get to it.