Lyrical vessel of eldritch horror and fountain of cosmic nightmares though he was, H.P. Lovecraft has never exactly been celebrated for his progressive social values. The New Weird literary movement, while embracing the twisting, putrescent blossoms of dark prose and mind-shattering, surreal abstractions that define the Lovecraftian style, has largely ignored the fact that racism and fear of integration with the “other” were among the master of the macabre’s primary influences.
Arguments can be made for separation of art from artist and apologies for the lingering zeitgeist of Progressive Era social Darwinism, but Victor LaValle in his new novella The Ballad of Black Tom has simply acknowledged the times for what they were and paid homage to the unimpeachable duke of dread by exploring the other side of one of his most problematic stories.
Victor LaValle perfectly captures the literary style of H.P. Lovecraft in all of its have-a-dictionary-by-your-side glory while translating “The Horror at Red Hook” into a narrative accessible from all angles, Euclidean or otherwise. The Ballad of Black Tom tells the story of a young musician and showman who, through mastery of the masquerade, becomes a raging conduit for the secret fire of the ancient gods. Dehumanizing marginalization by an at-best indifferent society serves as the backdrop for the eye of the Abyss tearing itself open to look upon the world as its prey.