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#BLACKATHON2020: THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM. LAVALLE TAKES ON LOVECRAFT.

LaValle gives us rich storytelling, intrigue, shady characters, and an engrossing mystery simmering with racial tension and undertones, filial loyalty and dedication, vibrant streets; and youthful invincibility.


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As a collector and transporter of an arcane nature, Thomas 'Tommy' Tester has to be streetwise and canny. However, when a certain book comes into his possession, Tommy becomes embroiled in a very curious and hair-raising state of affairs.

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The Ballad of Black Tom is layered and builds with a swift intensity as we follow Tommy across from his beloved Harlem to Red Hook and Flushing Meadows. There is diversity on the Harlem streets, and with that comes racism and racial stratification; profiling, and just all around bigotry; and even though these are not the focal point of the story, the reader none the less feels these themes as they leap off the page.

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'Becoming unremarkable, invisible, compliant---these were useful tricks for a black man in an all-white neighborhood. Survival techniques'-Tommy. Reading this emphasizes how aware Tommy has to be, when he exits Harlem, and is now inhabiting a space that is seen as being or belonging to those of a more affluent lifestyle (read white).

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LaValle shows how those in power change the narrative so that the shadows of their misdeeds never touch them; is instead shunted unto the disenfranchised, oppressed and marginalized. In such a short take, he has captured the ugliness and rage that Black people especially have had to endure and it is hard not to project unto present day atmospheres.

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I read LaValle's take on why he created this story from the original Lovecraft and I must say, I have to respect that. Read this small but mighty tome.

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