The Ballad of Black Tom (2016) by Victor LaValle

“The more I read, the more I listened, the more sure I became that a great and secret show had been playing throughout my life, throughout all our lives, but the mass of us were too ignorant, or too frightened, to raise our eyes and watch.” (p.41)

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As a prelude to reading this novella, I sought out and read H.P. Lovecraft’s 1926 short story The Horror at Red Hook. It isn’t essential to read this story first, but it does add background to LaValle’s novella. It is also pretty shocking for the sentiments its author so blatantly reveals. Here’s what I wrote about it on Goodreads:

The Horror at Red Hook is infamous for being Lovecraft’s most racist tale. It’s a short story of black magic, human sacrifice, and a policeman chasing after his sanity. Dosed with some cringe-worthy xenophobia and the usual Lovecraftian purple-prose, it’s a forgettable story that doesn’t compare to his later, more famous tales.”

 

The Ballad of Black Tom is Victor LaValle’s re-imagining of the events depicted in Lovecraft’s short story. LaValle brings in some new characters, notably Tommy Tester, a young, black bluesman who shares an apartment in Red Hook with his father. When the story opens, Tommy is mixed up in the illegal ferrying of rare books, specifically books of an occult nature. His meeting with the mysterious Ma Att, a buyer of such books, foreshadows the strange and dangerous path Tommy’s life will follow from here.  Continue reading

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RIP XII Challenge

I’m a sucker for a reading challenge, especially when it coincides with one of my own. The last two years in October, I’ve taken my own *All Hallow’s Read challenge (*from an idea by Neil Gaiman). I limit my October reading choices to tales of the supernatural.

Two years ago, I read Richard Matheson’s Hell House and Stephen King’s The Shining. Last year, I chose Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes, Bag of Bones by King, again, and Nightmare Magazine#37: Queers Destroy Horror!

This year, I am joining the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII Challenge which runs from September 1st to October 31st. Here is a link to the sign-up page. Continue reading

The Changeling (2017) by Victor LaValle

“This fairy tale begins in 1968 during a garbage strike.” (Loc 102)

 

9780812995947The Changeling is an adult fairy tale by American author Victor LaValle. Last year, I read his 2016 novella The Ballard of Black Tom, a reimagining of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story The Horror at Red Hook (1927). It was an impressive, very readable story which depicted the events of the original, infamously-racist Lovecraft tale from a different character’s perspective. LaValle’s 2009 novel Big Machine won the Shirley Jackson Award. He has also written a collection of short stories Slapboxing with Jesus (1999), and the novels The Ecstatic (2002) and The Devil in Silver (2012).

Recently married couple, Apollo Kagwa and Emma Valentine, lives in New York. Emma is a librarian and Apollo a used bookseller. After the birth of their son, Brian, life seems good as they both enjoy adapting to parenthood. LaValle takes his time setting the scene of this young couple’s life, revealing their characters in the tiny details: Emma’s difficulties with breastfeeding, and Apollo’s penchant for uploading blurry baby-pics onto Facebook. But after some unexplainable images start appearing on their smartphones, a staggering event takes place in their apartment turning Apollo and Emma’s’ world on its head. Continue reading