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Review of The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle

I borrowed an audio copy of The Ballad of Black Tom (by Victor LaValle) from my local library.

Description from Goodreads:

People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn’t there.

Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father’s head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his black skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their trained cops. But when he delivers an occult page to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.

A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?

Review:

I found this a really powerful novella. It deftly shows how easily the injustice and cruelty of everyday racism can push even good men to monster-like acts. (I was going to say turn them into monsters. But I don’t think Tom is ever a monster; just emotionally beaten by the racial realities of the 1920s.) I found it especially poignant how, even after the fact, the primary white character erases Tom from the event, effectively hiding the embodiment of white America’s sins (and his own participation in it) from himself, rendering it moot. All in all, I found this atmospheric and evocative. Plus, Kevin R. Free did a great job with the narration. A+