The Ballad of Black Tom is one of the best Lovecraft stories I’ve read, but when I went to read Victor LaValle’s The Changeling, I actually had no idea what it would be. I assumed it wasn’t more Lovecraftian horror, but so maybe some kind of fairytale thing?

And so it starts out as a very mundane slice-of-life kind of story, one that would be totally at home in the literary fiction aisles (where, it turns out, LaValle’s earlier books have been shelved; I had completely thought that Black Tom was his first publication, but apparently just the first one that I noticed). And as literary fiction, it’s really good. It’s sharply observed, wry, and peopled with believable characters. If LaValle were to write a book about people just going about their lives, it’d be a fun read.

But it turns out this isn’t that, because eventually that mundane starts getting mixed in with the mystical, and oh yeah, this is a fairytale thing. And it might not be Lovecraftian, but it is still horror.

I’m not really a horror reader—I read a bunch of it back in junior high when it was super-popular, to try to figure out why it was so popular, and I never actually understood the appeal. But I do get it here, because this book is intense. The every-day elements serve to ground the fantastic, to keep it from getting too wifty and supernatural; but also to intensify them, to make them feel that much more possible and real.

Excellent stuff, recommended for everyone who doesn’t mind some darkness in their fairy tale.


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