The Ballad of Black Tom

Victor LaValle

Book cover

H.P. Lovecraft wrote some amazing and very influential weird fiction. He was also a notorious racist. How to handle this legacy?

Victor LaValle responds creatively by re-writing one of Lovecraft’s more racist stories, “The Horror at Red Hook,” from the perspective of a Black man, Tommy Tester. Before reading TBOBT, I read THARH for context (it’s quite short). The original is honestly not that great of a story, and by the time I finished it, I was feeling like I didn’t really need to read it for context–there’s no Tommy Tester character in the original; he’s LaValle’s invention. But, after finishing TBOBT, I was glad I read the original, which helped me see how LaValle changed the focus.

It’s hard to say much about TBOBT without spoilers, so I will just say that it went in a direction that I was not expecting, which worked wonderfully. A theme of Lovecraft’s work is the horror of a completely indifferent cosmos, and LaValle takes an original and interesting perspective on that idea. There’s plenty of Lovecraftian horrors, but also some of the more mundane horrors that people perpetrate against fellow humans (sadly feeling even more timely today than when the book was originally published in 2016). It’s a far better story than the original.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars