Monday 2 October 2023

The Ballad of Black Tom

Finished September 26
The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle

This short novel has a lot of atmosphere. It is apparently inspired by a Lovecraft story. The story begins with a young black man, Charles Thomas Tester, known as Tom, taking on a task of delivering a book to a house in a white neighbourhood in Queens. It is set in the 1920s, a time of open racism and police brutality, and Tom does what he can to put food on the table and pay the rent for his father Otis and himself. Otis is not well, and unable to work himself, but he is a musician, and he's tried to teach Tommy what he can. Thus Tom often takes his guitar and busks for money. 
Taking on a task asked of him by someone who stopped and listened to him, is not uncommon, but Tom can feel the evil of the book he carries and he feels compelled to take a risk and remove a page from the book so that its full evil cannot be used by the strange woman, Ma Att, that he delivers it to. But this act sets off ramifications for Tom that he has to deal with. 
He is approached by a man, Robert Suydam, who pays him a lot of money to come to his house and perform, and Tom is aware there is something strange about the request. Suydam tells him a story about a Sleeping King and refers to the Supreme Alphabet. There is a police officer, Malone, and another man working with him, Howard, who menace Tom, and try to intimidate him. 
His father fears for him, and he goes with him to a club, the Victoria Society, where he meets an old friend Buckeye and asks for advice. 
Tom takes his own actions in response to the men trying to control him, and becomes something more than he expected after he learns he has nothing to lose. 
This is a story that is unsettling and dark, and so well told. Gripping.

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