Review: The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle

devilinsilverPublished by Spiegel & Grau
Released August 21, 2012
412 pages
Where I got it: Public library
Rating: ★★★★★

Description (from Goodreads):

Pepper is a rambunctious big man, minor-league troublemaker, working-class hero (in his own mind), and, suddenly, the surprised inmate of a budget-strapped mental institution in Queens, New York. He’s not mentally ill, but that doesn’t seem to matter. He is accused of a crime he can’t quite square with his memory. In the darkness of his room on his first night, he’s visited by a terrifying creature with the body of an old man and the head of a bison who nearly kills him before being hustled away by the hospital staff. It’s no delusion: The other patients confirm that a hungry devil roams the hallways when the sun goes down. Pepper rallies three other inmates in a plot to fight back: Dorry, an octogenarian schizophrenic who’s been on the ward for decades and knows all its secrets; Coffee, an African immigrant with severe OCD, who tries desperately to send alarms to the outside world; and Loochie, a bipolar teenage girl who acts as the group’s enforcer. Battling the pill-pushing staff, one another, and their own minds, they try to kill the monster that’s stalking them. But can the Devil die?

The Devil in Silver brilliantly brings together the compelling themes that spark all of Victor LaValle’s radiant fiction: faith, race, class, madness, and our relationship with the unseen and the uncanny. More than that, it’s a thrillingly suspenseful work of literary horror about friendship, love, and the courage to slay our own demons.

I was mesmerized by The Devil in Silver. It isn’t just that the story is good (it is), or that the characters are fascinating (they are). It’s that LaValle writes with energy, humor, and love, and as a result, his prose pops. I had a great time reading this story, and (at the risk of sounding totally crazy) wanted to tell everybody about it. I’m now a fan of LaValle and want to read everything else he’s written. The book was that good.

This is the story about a man named Pepper who is locked up in 72 hour observation at a psychiatric ward when the cops he assaults don’t want to bother to do the paperwork to put him in proper lockup. The problem is that even though Pepper isn’t insane, the drugs they distribute across the board take all of the fight and awareness out of him. Pretty soon, Pepper’s a walking zombie, and after a while it starts to feel like he really belongs there, when of course he does not.

Pepper makes friends in the ward, but he also learns of the ward’s deep, dark secret. There is a patient who roams the halls at night, murdering other patients. Oddly enough, this nightly terror has the body of an old man and the head of a bison. Pepper decides that it’s the devil. The patients are tired of living in fear, and seem to have been waiting for a person with Pepper’s strength to help them stop the devil, once and for all.

The devil isn’t the scary part of this story, though. It’s the incredible incompetence and neglect on the part of the healthcare providers, most of whom are outwardly hostile toward the patients. It’s the realization that this is a kind of Hotel California, in that once you fall into the system, it’s pretty much impossible to get out. Even so, there are moments of joy and hope in these pages, resulting in a wonderfully complex novel.

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2 Responses to Review: The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle

  1. Nikki says:

    This book sounds like a total anomoly in that there’s so much more meaning if you’re willing to dig beneath the surface. The premise is really intriguing and I’m willing to bet, by the end, you start to wonder who’s really crazy and who’s not. I WILL be adding this to my TBR list (near the top). Super excited!

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