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Apr 13 2016

The Ballad Of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

I haven’t actually read much Lovecraft, so wasn’t aware of how problematic some of his works, such as The Horror At Red Hook, are in terms of dealing with minorities and immigrants. When this novella was recommended to my Ingress Book Club, I felt that, as a matter of due diligence, I ought to read first the short story it was based on. I’m not, if truth be told, the biggest fan of tales of eldritch horror, and THARH had little to make it noteworthy to me besides the unrelenting bigotry of the story. That said, I was curious to see how Victor LaValle could possibly make something decent out of the source material, and pleasantly surprised when he far exceeded my expectations.

The Ballad Of Black Tom not only subverts the ugly prejudice of THARH but creates a stunning commentary on the rage of the disenfranchised. I had only two real quibbles with it: first, the utter disappearance of Mrs Suydam in the retelling, and second… well, I guess this isn’t a quibble so much as a point of philosophical discomfort. When Black Tom goes to visit the Victoria Society once again, he realizes that the respectability he’d been striving for was there all along, a conclusion that I was totally down with. However, it concerned me that Black Tom, in his melancholy, then seemed to favor a policy of isolation, as if staying insular would have protected him and his loved ones from the terrible things that had happened to them. Perhaps avoiding a life of crime would have spared them police attention, but that doesn’t mean that brutality comes only to the wicked and to the ones around them. Apart from that, a terrific novella overall, and one I wish could have been longer (especially since a longer version might have included a reinterpretation of Suydam’s honeymoon instead of just ignoring it.)

About the author

Doreen Sheridan

Professional book critic, amateur housewife, full-time polymath. I like a good story.

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