The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

People who move to New York always make the same mistake… They come looking for magic, whether evil or good, and nothing will convince them it isn’t here.

The year is 1924, and Charles Thomas Tester wouldn’t call himself a con man; he thinks of himself as an entertainer. He’s not much of a musician, unlike his beloved father, but he knows how to put on the right look and scrape a living where he can. It helps to leave Harlem, where he supports his father and himself in a tenement apartment, and travel to the likes of Red Hook and Flushing. There’s risk there for a Black man, but more to be gained, too. Charles plays off wealthier New Yorkers’ search for magic–until he gets into more than he’d bargained for. In Flatbush he meets a wealthy eccentric named Robert Suydam with ideas about how to change the world. An anxious, sensitive police detective and a burly bully of a private investigator are on the tail of the unlikely allies, Charles and Suydam; between them they will certainly change the shape of the world, in unexpected ways.

The Ballad of Black Tom has magic and race and racism and wishes and love and violence and simple street entertainers’ illusions. There are characters from different walks of life – I love the varieties of ethnic foods available in the Victoria Society. Charles Thomas Tester is both a straightforwardly relatable character – loves his father, just wants a little financial wiggle room – and a dangerous enigma. This book is short, but it casts a spell. Victor LaValle continues to intrigue me. Recall that I loved one book of his and couldn’t finish the next. This one is compelling. I have The Devil in Silver waiting on my shelf. We shall see.

Meanwhile, Black Tom will keep me thinking for a while – not least with its final prophecy.


Rating: 7 pages.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: