A hundred stars! A thousand! LaValle beautifully, masterfully, excitingly retells the events of H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 story “The Horror at Red Hook” from the point of view of an entirely new and original character. But what sets THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM above your average Lovecraft homage or pastiche is that it is vibrantly and passionately in conversation with it — interrogating it, responding to it, at times even refuting it.
I’ve loved everything LaValle has written. His oeuvre flirts with the horror genre to varying degrees — the catalog of faux horror movies in THE ECSTATIC, the supernatural investigation in BIG MACHINE, the creature stalking the psychiatric hospital in THE DEVIL IN SILVER — but THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM is his most straightforward genre piece, and therefore his most accessible for new readers. And my hope is that it brings LaValle many, many new readers, because his work is consistently outstanding.
I can’t recommend THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM highly enough. A familiarity with “The Horror at Red Hook” adds an extra layer to the tale but isn’t necessary for your enjoyment. Like all great works, THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM stands on its own.