The Ballad of Black Tom (Victor LaValle)

51c8pI8gIDL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_H.P. Lovecraft is one of my favourite authors, a defining and important figure for me, and yet these days it feels like you can’t admit that in polite company, at least not without bringing up the “r” word: racism. Anyway, now that I’ve fulfilled that obligation, let’s talk about this book instead; when it comes to the matter of how do we deal with Lovecraft’s race problem, LaValle (who acknowledges his mixed feelings towards HPL in his dedication) here offers the most creative response, i.e. basically taking Lovecraft’s story “The Horror at Red Hook”, his villain Robert Suydam and his “occult detective” (for want of a better description) Thomas Malone, and rewriting it. It’s a short novel that makes its points briefly but clearly; the eponymous Tom is a young black man making his way in the world of mid-1920s New York; of course, by virtue of his being a young black man, he occupies a very particular place in that world, which is how Suydam—who occupies his own, odder place in New York—is drawn to him. LaValle obviously tells the story in rather more “modern” style than Lovecraft told his, but I like that he picks up on Malone’s oddness as a Lovecraft character and how he’s, you know, not exactly suited to police work… still, when there’s weirdness afoot as there is here, we’re not really dealing with normal police work, I suppose. I enjoyed this greatly, and I doubt many people would argue with me that it’s not vastly better than Lovecraft’s story; that said, I remain a bit unconvinced by Tom’s kind of sudden acquisition of power and ascendance over Suydam by the end, maybe he’s a bit too literally “Magical Negro” at that point, if you’ll pardon the expression. Really good stuff otherwise, though, and I should probably read some more of LaValle’s stuff now…


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