Sunday, January 15, 2017

Day 76: The Ballad of Black Tom

Just finished my first book of the year and it was a gift from a good friend of mine. I can't help but think he sent it as a corrective to my poor attempt to write a Lovecraft homage a few years ago. This novel, by Victor LaValle, is a quick read but also, excellent. The first half of the book focuses on Tom Tester, a black musician (who can't sing to save his life) who is hired by a mysterious man to play at a party. Of course, nothing is that simple in the world of Lovecraft homage. Tester has to care for his ailing father, try to earn money without any real talent, dodge police and private detectives as well as the wrath of a woman he double-crossed by stealing a magic book for her that was missing the last page.

Although short, the novel balances all these storylines pretty well (the woman with the stolen book was not given sufficient space, I felt, to make her threat seem real). Midway through, Tom undergoes a transformation and the novel shifts perspectives to Malone, a police officer in New York. The book loses some urgency when it steps away from Tom, as his experiences as a black man in 1900s New York are riveting.

There is an epic, gory conclusion that strikes all the right notes. If you like Lovecraft and want to see homage done right, this is a fine example.

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