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The Ballad of Black Tom Paperback – February 16, 2016
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"Full of rage and passion." ―The New York Times Book Review
"This ingenious recasting of an H.P. Lovecraft classic is as creepy as it is thought-provoking." ―People
"The Ballad of Black Tom stands on its own as a compelling weird tale of Jazz-age New York City, but its penetrating examination of Lovecraft’s creations and how they reflect racism’s profound influence on our cultural imagination is where it really shines." ―Slate
"Shirley Jackson Award–winner LaValle cleverly retcons H.P. Lovecraft’s infamous story “The Horror at Red Hook,” retelling it with a new protagonist (the titular Charles Thomas Tester, a splendidly Lovecraftian name) and a literary veneer that recalls Chester Himes." ―Publishers Weekly
"Wonderfully creepy and impossible to put down, The Ballad of Black Tom is a genre-bending must-read." ―BuzzFeed
"LaValle’s ingenious project involves co-opting Lovecraft’s epic-scale paranoia into the service of a trickster tale." ―Locus
"Whether The Ballad of Black Tom is approached as a straightforward tale of horror in the early 20th century or as a metafictional commentary on Lovecraft’s own storytelling choices and racism, it succeeds. It also stands as proof that the process of engaging with the conflicted feelings that the work of Lovecraft can prompt can lead to rewarding, emotionally compelling writing of its own." ―Electric Literature
"This book is full of wonder and horror and pain and magic and I cannot recommend it enough." ―BookRiot
"LaValle crafts a gem of a Lovecraftian novella, cleverly keeping his horrors just offstage. The real power of the story is Tom’s experiences of prejudice as a black man living in early 20th-century Harlem, and how he overcomes and subverts that prejudice, taking on whatever role he has to in order to get by: he is “Charles” to his father, “Tommy” to his friends, and eventually “Black Tom”―one to be feared." ―Library Journal
"The Ballad of Black Tom is a fresh take on cosmic horror." ― Dirge Magazine
"Victor LaValle brilliantly takes some of Lovecraft’s literary motifs and transforms them into social consciousness. To say this is no small feat is a major understatement." ― Diabolique Magazine
"With endless creativity and deft, seemingly effortless prose, LaValle has stolen the deliciously demonic soul of old Howard’s vilest story and made it into something new." ― The B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog
"A smartly written and well-paced homage that perfectly encapsulates the complicated feelings that many people have towards Lovecraft." ― SF Bluestocking
About the Author
Victor LaValle is the author of the short story collection Slapboxing with Jesus, several novels, including The Ecstatic, Big Machine, and The Devil in Silver, and an ebook-only novella, Lucretia and the Kroons.
He has been the recipient of numerous awards including a Whiting Writers' Award, a United States Artists Ford Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the key to Southeast Queens.
He was raised in Queens, New York. He now lives in Washington Heights with his wife and son. He teaches at Columbia University.
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Top Customer Reviews
Now, it is no secret that Lovecraft held strong feelings about certain minority and immigrant groups, and THE HORROR AT RED HOOK is often singled out as the most egregious example. Because of this, there are some today that would prefer to banish Lovecraft’s entire body of work to the scrap heap because of it. I don’t happen to share that view. Lovecraft was a strange man, for certain, but a man of his time. A better response is what author Victor Lavalle has done. A black author of weird fiction, Lavalle has taken Lovecraft’s tale and reworked it from another viewpoint, the viewpoint of black would-be street-troubadour Charles Thomas Tester who plays a pivotal role in the unearthly happenings in the tenements of Robert Suydam, in the summoning of The Sleeping King.
THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM is a wonderful novella, and I would strongly suggest reading Lovecraft’s story first, to set the scene, and to better appreciate how Lavalle has returned us to Lovecraft’s imperfect world. There are a few truly horrifying scenes to be had.
It's simply a retelling of Lovecraft's THE HORROR AT RED HOOK with the addition of a couple of expanded characters, but there's nothing outstanding here at all. At least it's cheap and a quick read.
I could certainly sympathize with Tommy/”Black Tom”’s fury; the description of the father’s killing, on the flimsiest of “self-defense” excuses, by a trigger-happy private detective was chilling and all too disturbingly similar to accounts in recent news. Nonetheless, I didn’t find him an especially interesting or complex character. Even less so was Malone, a “sensitive” policeman with an interest in the occult who is the main character in the second half of the novella. Unlike Howard, the detective, Malone is comfortable among the blacks in Harlem, but in a more subtle way he, too, looks down on them and wants to use them only for his own ends: “These people, their superstitions and lowly faiths, were the lead a higher mind might transmute into the pure gold of cosmogonic wisdom,” he thinks. I didn’t find Malone convincing; he mainly seems to exist because the second half of the story needs to have a relatively uninvolved witness present…. I see on looking back at other reviews that Malone is a sort of reference to a Lovecraft story called “The Horror at Red Hook” (Red Hook is also mentioned in the LaValle story), which I haven’t read (or don’t remember). OK, but I still think he needs to work in this story too if he’s going to be here.
The writing was competent and occasionally good, but the story never really came together for me. It might have worked better if the author had stayed with Tommy/Black Tom, showing how his feelings changed as he gained his power, rather than pulling away to focus on Malone.