The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn’t there.
Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father’s head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.
A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break? (via Goodreads)
Why was I interested in this book?
I like the intersection of music and fiction, especially in horror. I’ve seen lots of good reviews and accolades for this story, including a Shirley Jackson award for Best Novella (2016). Decided to read it despite its Lovecraft connection.
Crisp writing. I hadn’t encountered Victor LaValle before, but I’m going to endeavor to read more of his works. I like his style.
The problematic aspects of H. P. Lovecraft’s stories have become a bone of contention for many readers. The inspiration for The Ballad of Black Tom, “The Horror at Red Hook,” is a product of xenophobia and racism. LaValle subverts that story and those themes with such grace and ease that he makes Lovecraft look truly foolish. I’ve read both: The Ballad of Black Tom first and “The Horror at Red Hook” second. There is no contest, LaValle has written the superior story.
I also really appreciate that the age of easy publishing has given novellas have a new life. The Ballad of Black Tom is the right size. In another age, the story might have been expanded into a novel for publication or buried in an anthology. Tor gave it the opportunity to be its own thing.
Publishing info, my copy: Kindle Book / OverDrive Read, Tom Doherty Associates, February 16, 2016
Acquired: Tempe Overdrive Digital Collection