Publication Date: February 16, 2016
Charles Thomas Tester lives in New York. To support himself and his ailing father, he delivers items and asks no questions. He is aware of the unpredictability of magic and the danger in what he does. When he delivers a book to a sorceress in Queens, he opens the door to something unpredictable and dangerous.
The Ballad of Black Tom is a retelling of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Horror at Red Hook. Lovecraft’s story was written in 1925 soon after he moved to New York and was born of the idea that dark forces could be at work under the surface of society and would be unknown to most of us. Are only the people in the know the ones that matter in the world? LaValle’s story stands as a remediation of the racism of an author that he truly adores.
The Horror at Red Hook by H.P. Lovecraft follows a Detective named Malone. Strange things are happening and Malone is on the trail. LaValle’s story is from the perspective of a minor character in the original work. Tommy Tester is a well-framed character. He uses his empty guitar case as a disguise to hide under the surface and to travel places he might not normally be able to go. LaValle addresses the racism of New York in the 1920s and Lovecraft head on.The Ballad of Black Tom is a paranormal horror story but it’s also a commentary on the human reaction to the injustice inherent in society. More importantly, LaValle shines a light on the fact that as much as things change, in some ways they stay the same. Tommy’s evolution in the story is a direct result of anger as the result of a tragic injustice.
The Ballad of Black Tom is beautifully written. LaValle’s landscape is vivid. His characters leap from the page. While a fairly short read at 152 pages, is impactful in a visceral way. I’m tempted to re-read Lovecraft’s original work. LaValle’s Malone strikes me as authentic but also slightly unique. Tommy as Black Tom is terrifying to Malone. He sees the insignificance of himself, a man to always hold himself above. LaValle’s take is smoothly presented and insightful.
I truly enjoyed reading The Ballad of Black Tom. It’s well written, well edited and beautifully framed. An homage to a brilliant but imperfect man. LaValle’s story reads as both classic retelling and something this reader hasn’t seen before. Victor LaValle is a brilliant writer. If you like horror, Lovecraft, human tales or just generally good writing, pick up The Ballad of Black Tom today.
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