Even before I found out Lovecraft was a humongous shitstain of a human being, I didn’t like the way he wrote. His prose is a bit too antiquated for my tastes. So when I found out he hated all skin tones darker than Elmer’s-glue, it didn’t bother me because I already didn’t like the guy. Am I dumb enough to think all his fans must be racist because he was? No. I know plenty of radically non-racist individuals who love his stuff. These folks can look past the artist to appreciate the mythos he created. Good on them. The problem for me is, I’m not even a fan of his mythos. Squid-faced gods and monsters so ugly the author can’t be bothered to describe them never have done much for me. It’s all too easy to say, “Oh, snap! That thing is so scurry my mind can’t even wrap around it, yo!” I wish all of us could get away with that; describing everything as too scary to describe. It would make being a horror author much easier.
So why did I read this? Well, Gregor Xane read it and shared with me the epigraph, which reads, “For H.P. Lovecraft, with all my conflicted feelings.” You see, Victor LaValle is a mixed dude who grew up reading Lovecraft. When LaValle was in his teens, he found out about Lovecraft’s extreme racism, but decided to play with the old Aryan’s mythos anyway. I respect that. The idea of the offendee reimagining an offender’s work piqued my interest. Kinda like what would happen if the crew over at Kidz Bop paid tribute to Michael Jackson. (Too soon?) Anyfuck, that’s why I read it. And I’m glad I did, because this motherfucker was damn good. I also find it hilarious on several levels that LaValle does Lovecraft better than Lovecraft did Lovecraft.
The Ballad of Black Tom is first told from the POV of Tommy Tester, a dude who becomes the titular Black Tom. At exactly the halfway point, the POV switches to a detective named Malone. While Tom’s section is more of an introduction, Malone’s section brings home the creepy, gory bacon. The description of Ma Att’s shadow/tail/ whatever-the-fuck was so subtle and well done, it actually raised gooseflesh on my forearms. I honestly cannot remember the last time a simple grouping of words affected me physically. I am in awe. LaValle nailed that scene. I can say, truthfully, it’s in my top ten scenes ever written. The descriptions of the monster under the water and the low note played throughout the piece were equally well written.
As for the story itself? It’s definitely my cuppa tea. A slow burn that goes into a bit of what-the-fuckery before the ending leaves our protagonist forever changed. I dug the fuck out of this little book and I want more.
In summation: The Ballad of Black Tom is now my forerunner for Novella of the Year 2016. I’ll be looking for more LaValle, as this one has officially made me a fan.
Final Judgment: Eye opening.
(Gregor Xane shared this link with me after I read the book. I suggest you read it too, you know, AFTER you read this story. It’s Victor LaValle explaining why he tackled this particular story and its characters.