The Ballad of Black TomThe Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
My rating: 3/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne Star

although lovecraft hails from the great state of rhode island and providence plantations, and we have few enough literary feathers in our tiny hat (and because there are apparently rules about who can be claimed and who cannot, and cormac mccarthy’s moving to memphis from his providence birthplace at four years old – an age where he was basically luggage and certainly not choosing to leave the ocean state behind, nonetheless renders him ineligible to be counted as one of us), i have never been a lovecraft fan.

and wouldn’t it be commendable if i could claim to be all aglow with high-minded outrage, disliking him on principle, finding his racist and misogynistic views so unacceptable that they caused me to boycott his work in an admirable, if somewhat smug, demonstration of righteousness? but that ain’t even it. i tried reading him when i was, like, twelve, and i just found it boring and cheesy and the horror equivalent of panning away from the romantic leads just before they give in to their passion in a very naked way. everything was suggested, occluded, and i wanted to see the good bloody stuff, thank you very much.

but as it happens, apart from writing boring-ass stories, lovecraft was a super-douche. (and by all accounts, cormac mccarthy is a professional, decent, and humble gentleman, so you’re welcome, tennessee) this book is lavalle’s reworking of lovecraft’s The Horror at Red Hook, which is apparently considered to be lovecraft’s “most racist ever,” despite the existence of his poem On the Creation of Niggers, which goes a little something like this:

When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a Nigger.

that is stunningly toxic, but at least it is very short. if The Horror at Red Hook is somehow even more racist and also longer and probably also filled with his brand of “dude, this horror i’m writing about is so horrifying, i can’t even tell you about it. seriously. it would blow your mind too much. just trust me -it is super scary wwwwOOOoooo…,” well, i’m happy to avoid it.

all of this to say that i have no clue how this novella functions as a response to or a reworking of the original. all i know is that i enjoyed lavalle’s writing, particularly the way he scrapped that turgid lovecraftian vocabulary, and chose to employ a modified version of lovecraft’s inexpressible horror, where the horror is at least partially expressed; described enough so it retains a sense of mystery without leaving the reader with nothing.

bonus points for name-dropping the fine little rhody towns of pascoag and chepachet, which were mentioned in the source material, so no biggie there (yeah, i researched this read the wikipedia page, what?), but for ALSO mentioning woonsocket, the location of the hospital in which i first drew breath.

i don’t know what is happening there, but it seems about right.

to conclude: h.p. lovecraft – an unpleasant man with a gigantic head buried in the cemetery where i used to smoke pot and take gothy pictures.

victor lavalle – a man from queens (represent!) who seems quite affable and counters lovecraft’s bullshit with this book and a photograph i am calling “the horror at red tongue…”

read my reviews on goodreads

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