Ballad of Black Tom

This novella was provided to me by the publisher at no cost.

26975675.jpgI may not have the context with which to really comment on this story – I have a bit of knowledge of America in the 1920s but not all that much; my understanding of race relations in America is slightly better than superficial but not exactly deep. Also I have next to no knowledge of HP Lovecraft’s work

With all of that said, I really enjoyed this story, so as someone without masses of history about the period of the story that’s a pretty good recommendation.

The story is split in two, with two different narrators – which actually really surprised me, so that’s kind of a spoiler I guess. The first half is told by Tommy Tester, a young black man who makes a living by hustling, basically. He wears a musician disguise to be both seen and unseen; he gets jobs that need that sort of look. One day he encounters a wealthy white man, Robert Suydam, and things… get weird.

The second half of the story is from the perspective of a white policeman, Malone, whom Tommy encounters early on and then later. He’s not entirely a stranger to unnatural occurrences, and gets more involved in the weird stuff Tommy and Suydam conjure up than he would perhaps like.

The plot isn’t especially intricate but it’s certainly compelling enough to keep me turning the pages. On top of that is what (with all the caveats above about my knowledge of the period) I found to be a very interesting commentary on race relations. The (white) police treatment of black people in Harlem wasn’t a surprise, dealt with bluntly but with compassion I thought; Suydam’s manipulation of race resentment struck me as all too plausible (hello living in Australia in 2015). I don’t know whether the attempt to make Malone sympathetic to the plight of non-white immigrants was an attempt at not making all whites evil, or whether it reflects reality; possibly it’s a case of both being feasible? Makes the story that much more compelling, anyway.

Lastly: Ma Att? Brilliant.

Certainly recommended.Th

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