So Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom does a really cool thing, which is to combine two things that are usually not combined, and make it obvious that they should have been together all along.

And so here we have a familiar tale of Lovecraftian horror—eldritch mysteries and sleeping gods and the like—set in the 1920s era that’s so distinctively Lovecraftian. Except that instead of being set on the rural New England coast, it’s set in New York City, and the protagonist is a black musician living in Harlem.

Lovecraft’s stories are famously super-racist, so obviously this is in one sense a pushback against that, a subversive reclamation. But it’s also more than that, because from the other direction this is telling a story of the black experience in Jazz Age New York, and the Lovecraftian elements serve to mirror and reinforce that story in a way that makes the supernatural layer feel like literalized metaphor. That is, it’s not just telling a Cthulhu story that has Tommy Tester as its protagonist, it’s telling a story about Tommy Tester that has Cthulhu as a plot element—and it works in both directions.

This is good stuff. Strongly recommended.


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