dailyO
Life/Style

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaVelle: Invisible Monsters

Sayantan Ghosh
Sayantan GhoshOct 07, 2022 | 17:08

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaVelle: Invisible Monsters

The Ballad of Black Tom is an interesting spin on the horror brand of HP Lovecraft (photo- DailyO)

It’s October already and officially Halloween month. Of course, the festival isn’t celebrated here in India, but thanks to pop culture infiltrations we are not far removed from it any longer. So, it only makes sense to read something that not only is an immersive experience but also sends a shiver down your spine this month.

Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom is an artful, atmospheric novella of eldritch horror that can best be described as a Lovecraftian horror without Lovecraft’s xenophobia. It’s both a tribute and a corrective rewrite of Lovecraft’s story titled “The Horror at Red Hook”, also popularly known as “Lovecraft’s Most Bigoted Story”. LaValle is an African-American writer who grew up in Queens being consumed by the works of HP Lovecraft, considered a master in his genre even today. It was only after Victor was a grown man that he was able to recognize the underlying racism and bigotries that plagued Lovecraft’s universe throughout his life.

Cover of The Ballad of Black Tom (photo- MacMillan)
Cover of The Ballad of Black Tom (photo- MacMillan)

The book, set in 1924, is a balletic response to “Red Hook” that follows the story of a young black man from Harlem named Tommy Tester while he negotiates the brutalities of a racist world. One day, when the eccentric but reclusive millionaire Robert Suydam hears Tester playing his guitar on the street, he offers Tommy an obscene amount of cash to perform at his mansion in an all-white neighborhood. Lovecraft wrote “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” It’s a sentence that can also work as the perfect elevator pitch for The Ballad of Black Tom.

A representative illustration of the book's themes (art-Shianne Writes)
A representative illustration of the book's themes (art-Shianne Writes)

Another significant character in the book is a racist white NYPD detective, Thomas Malone, and a part of the story is told from his perspective. It adds a disquieting sense of realism to this tale of cosmic horror, because even though it’s happening nearly a hundred years ago, it feels equally contemporary.

LaValle opens the book with a dedication that reads, “for H.P. Lovecraft, with all my conflicted feelings”. By writing this novella, he’s done a great favour to readers who have struggled with similar sentiments while appreciating much about Lovecraft’s works for years. Because in a prejudiced world, there are greater fears to be wary of than even terrifying other-worldly monsters.

Last updated: October 07, 2022 | 17:08
IN THIS STORY
    Please log in
    I agree with DailyO's privacy policy