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The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
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The Ballad of Black Tom (edition 2016)

by Victor LaValle (Author)

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4282435,355 (3.99)47
Member:Darcia
Title:The Ballad of Black Tom
Authors:Victor LaValle (Author)
Info:Tor.com (2016), Edition: F First Edition, 160 pages
Collections:Horror, Paranormal Fiction, e-books, Fiction
Rating:*****
Tags:None

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The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (Author)

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English (23)  French (1)  All languages (24)
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Is it possible for a story to get under your skin and inhabit your body? Because I think that's what happened here.

The story begins with us firmly planted in the reality of New York in the 1920s. We meet Charles Thomas Tester, a black man trying to make a living in a white-dominated city. The author puts us right there so that we feel the racism and the police brutality. The setting and the circumstances are masterfully handled.

Then, when we're comfortable in this setting, we're gradually nudged into the abyss. Because we started from such a real place, the supernatural aspects feel all the more possible and all the more unnerving.

This short novel has surprising potency. ( )
  Darcia | Oct 11, 2018 |
Tom is a young black man, living in New York City with his father, in the pre-Civil Rights era. Life is not easy, or safe, but Tom has gotten very skilled at presenting a non-threatening front and making money in ways that may not meet his father's high ethical standards, but do meet his looser ones. Mostly, this involves running errands white people with money, but maybe not the highest ethical standards themselves.

And one day, his legal sideline of playing the guitar gets him a really unlikely job. A white man sees him, listens for a bit, and hires him on the spot to play at a party he'll be throwing at his home in one of the fancier neighborhoods.

Tom isn't that good. It makes no sense, but the pay offered is excellent.

It's the beginning a trip down a rabbit hole of epic proportions.

The white man has a plan, in which the black people he recruits with lavish promises are not being told everything, or, really anything. Tom is told a little more, and it's an impressive vision...

Tom is on his way to being angry, embittered, and embarked on his own plan.

The question is whether New York City will survive.

It's a dark and powerful tale, and completely absorbing despite its darkness. Recommended. ( )
  LisCarey | Sep 19, 2018 |
The Ballad of Black Tom is a novella that retells one of Lovecraft's worst and most racist stories (The Horror of Red Hook) from the perspective of a young African American man. The author was a fan of Lovecraft as a child and had that admiration shattered later in life when he began to recognize the racist themes of the stories he used to love. Despite this racism, LaValle still liked the monsters and horror of Lovecraft's worlds so he decided to retell one of those stories from the point of view of one of the background characters that Lovecraft did not bother to get to know.

"Where Lovecraft would’ve seen an enigma I could say these were people I knew. They were complicated by not mysterious. What if I reimagined Lovecraft’s old story from their point of view? What if I made one of them the engine of the tale? How much would change if the folks used to playing the background came center stage instead?" - Victor LaValle

The result of this exercise is a wonderfully creepy horror novella. Before reading the novella, I did read a copy of The Horror of Red Hook online. While I found it interesting reading to have read the source material first, it is not necessary to enjoy the novella.

I liked the character of Tom. He was a complex character and his transformation from laid back street hustler to monster was well done. The reader sees how the systemic racism around him affected him and turned him into the kind of monster that the racists were afraid he was from the beginning. ( )
  Cora-R | Jun 24, 2018 |
H.P. Lovecraft published [b:The Horror at Red Hook|2582189|The Horror at Red Hook|H.P. Lovecraft|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1266939978s/2582189.jpg|2598040] in 1925. In it, a New York City detective by the name of Malone investigates strange goings-on in an immigrant populated section the city called Red Hook. As usual, the story takes place in Lovecraft’s universe of cosmic horror, always subject to the return of the Elder Gods. Victor LaValle is writing a tribute of sorts to Lovecraft with The Ballad of Black Tom, which is basically a retelling of Red Hook.

LaValle’s description of 1920s New York is engrossing and visceral: you’re walking the streets with main character Tommy Tester, riding the train, hustling for money with his guitar and trying to make ends meet, all while he tries to stay invisible in the eyes of the police. The other part of the story, of course, is the world of supernatural evil. LaValle makes this world feel just as real as the streets of Harlem.

While LaValle takes some liberties with Lovecraft’s story (guns versus clubs, erroneous conclusions about political leaders), the strongest feature is how he brings together the horrors of the real world: racism, police brutality, murder, injustice; with the supernatural horrors and evil powers at work beneath the surface of that real world. Obviously, Lovecraft was a deeply ingrained racist. His views today would be considered repugnant. LaValle took that and created a story that deals with the human capacity for evil, the effects of repression and injustice, and the evil and despair that can exist just beneath the thin veneer of so-called civilized society.

This novella also has its terrifying moments; it is, after all, a Lovecraftian horror story. Even though it is relatively short, there is enough eeriness and darkness to satisfy Lovecraft’s legions of fans. The end was unpredictable, and quite scary. ( )
  ssimon2000 | May 7, 2018 |
I'm not sure what I was expecting with this. Definitely not a Lovecraft story, that's for sure. I obviously did NOT do enough research about the book beforehand, but re-reading the description on GR, I can see why I was surprised. I think I was expecting more magic, or something. Still great, and definitely made me think. ( )
  gossamerchild88 | Mar 30, 2018 |
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For H. P. Lovecraft, with all my conflicted feelings
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People who move to New York always make the same mistake.
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Mankind didn't make messes, mankind was the mess.
"The seas will rise and our cities will be swallowed by the oceans," Black Tom said. "The air will grow so hot we won't be able to breathe. The world will be remade for Him, and His kind. That white man was afraid of indifference; well, now he's going to find out what it's like."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0765387867, Paperback)

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?

"LaValle's novella of sorcery and skullduggery in Jazz Age New York is a magnificent example of what weird fiction can and should do."
― Laird Barron, author of The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All

"[LaValle] reinvents outmoded literary conventions, particularly the ghettos of genre and ethnicity that long divided serious literature from popular fiction."
― Praise for The Devil in Silver from Elizabeth Hand, author of Radiant Days

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 09 Dec 2015 11:23:40 -0500)

"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?"--Provided from Amazon.com.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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