Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

As influential as Lovecraft’s work is, I’m not a fan. Lovecraft uses old-fashioned (and often xenophobic) language and paces his stories in such a way that there’s little tension. That said, he has a few creepy stories and I like how he writes the Old Ones as inconceivably ancient and alien entities that are indifferent to humanity. So when I heard about The Ballad of Black Tom—a Lovecraftian story without the Lovecraft—I had to read it. It’s a retelling of “The Horror at Red Hook,” which Lovecraft wrote with an extra shot of xenophobia after his Brooklyn apartment was burglarized. In an interview with the Lovecraft ezine, Victor LaValle says he intended The Ballad Black Tom as a corrective:

. . . I’m in Harlem on a pretty regular basis. What I wanted to get across most about uptown as a whole was the sense of life and community, exactly the things Lovecraft missed, or simply couldn’t see. His depictions of the immigrant neighborhoods in Brooklyn were so baffling to me because I simply couldn’t recognize the kinds of places he feared as exactly the kind of places I’m so happy I grew up in, and where I still live now. So my depictions of Harlem had to work as a kind of corrective. If Lovecraft seemed to be suffering blurred vision about these neighborhoods then I wanted my story to be like the contact lenses.

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