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The Devil in Silver: A Novel [Hardcover]

Victor LaValle
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Aug. 21 2012
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New York Times Book Review • The Washington Post • Publishers Weekly

New Hyde Hospital’s psychiatric ward has a new resident. It also has a very, very old one.

 
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.

Praise for The Devil in Silver
 
“A fearless exploration of America’s heart of darkness . . . a dizzying high-wire act.”—The Washington Post
 
“LaValle never writes the same book and his recent is a stunner. . . . Fantastical, hellish and hilarious.”—Los Angeles Times
 
“It’s simply too bighearted, too gentle, too kind, too culturally observant and too idiosyncratic to squash into the small cupboard of any one genre, or even two.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
“Embeds a sophisticated critique of contemporary America’s inhumane treatment of madness in a fast-paced story that is by turns horrifying, suspenseful, and comic.”—The Boston Globe
 
“LaValle uses the thrills of horror to draw attention to timely matters. And he does so without sucking the joy out of the genre. . . . A striking and original American novelist.”—The New Republic

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Review

“A fearless exploration of America’s heart of darkness . . . a dizzying high-wire act.”—The Washington Post
 
“LaValle never writes the same book and his recent is a stunner. . . . Fantastical, hellish and hilarious.”—Los Angeles Times
 
“It’s simply too bighearted, too gentle, too kind, too culturally observant and too idiosyncratic to squash into the small cupboard of any one genre, or even two.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
“Embeds a sophisticated critique of contemporary America’s inhumane treatment of madness in a fast-paced story that is by turns horrifying, suspenseful, and comic.”—The Boston Globe
 
“LaValle uses the thrills of horror to draw attention to timely matters. And he does so without sucking the joy out of the genre. . . . A striking and original American novelist.”—The New Republic

About the Author

Victor LaValle is the award-winning author of two previous novels, The Ecstatic and Big Machine, and a collection of short stories, Slapboxing with Jesus. Big Machine was the winner of an American Book Award and the Shirley Jackson Award in 2010, and was selected as one of the best books of the year by the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, The Nation, and Publishers Weekly. He teaches writing at Columbia University and lives in New York.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By John Kwok TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
"The Devil in Silver", one of the year's best novels, is a compelling blend of magical realism, horror and mainstream literary fiction; a great work of fiction that bends and transcends all of these genres, via a riveting odyssey into the darkest reaches of one man's soul. What LaValle has written is a superb example of psychological horror that compares favorably with the best from Clive Barker, Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft, and Peter Straub, but one that will also impress mainstream audiences too in its poetically plain prose, crisp dialogue and surprisingly appropriate usage of avant-garde literary techniques found in the best fiction from notable writers like Rick Moody and Thomas Pynchon, while also daring to address often contentious issues in contemporary American society and culture ranging from faith to racism. It should be regarded too as LaValle's personal, heart-felt literary "valentine" to his native New York City borough of Queens, introducing us to a cast of characters as diverse and compelling as those in Jonathan Lethem's "Motherless Brooklyn", but none more so than Pepper, the novel's blue collar white male protagonist. Mistakenly thrown into the run down psychiatric ward of New Hyde Hospital after wrestling with three plain clothes New York City cops, Pepper confronts not only his sanity and his sense of himself, but also a terror that lurks within the hospital itself; a living "demon" whose nocturnal visits to inmate-occupied rooms leave behind a bloody trail of mischief and mayhem, striking fear in the hearts of those inmates believing that a devil lurks inside the walls of New Hyde Hospital. Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  105 reviews
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "It takes a lot of courage to live for someone." July 3 2012
By DanD - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Pepper is a big, simple-minded, but more-or-less good-hearted blue collar Brooklyn guy. Defending the honor of a woman who couldn't care less, he accidentally winds up fighting three cops who, through sheer laziness, admit him to New Hyde Hospital's psych ward for a mandatory 72-hour stay. But on his second night, Pepper is visited by a demonic fiend. Sad to say, it's not an hallucination, as everyone--patients and staff alike--seem to somehow acknowledge the beast's existence. But is it a man? Or is it, as Pepper begins to suspect, the Devil Himself?

THE DEVIL IN SILVER is not your typical horror novel. In fact, in most ways, it's not a horror novel at all. It wears the trappings--monster stalking psych ward patients--but it isn't really ABOUT the monster, so much as it is about its protagonist, the cast of quirky--but three-dimensional--supporting characters. Victor LaValle's novel is equal parts satire, dark comedy, and emotional character study. It has genuine twists and turns that you don't see coming; but it also has avant-garde characteristics such as an entire chapter devoted to the biography of Vincent Van Gogh, or the anthropomorphizing of a rather pitiable rat. Even these latter sections move along flawlessly, thanks to LaValle's expert prose (some sections read like poetry, while at the same time remaining realistic and true-to-life; Langston Hughes and Charles Bukowski come to mind).

This is a clever, funny, haunting, emotional novel. Hardcore horror fans may want to stay away, as you won't get your usual cliched trappings. But for people who like to see real intelligence and wit brought to genre fiction, who like to see such things as monsters and devils elevated to literary-quality status...THE DEVIL IN SILVER is a book you have to read.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not What I Expected... Aug. 13 2012
By Yolanda S. Bean - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This book left me with some mixed feelings. The initial description left me to expect a sort of spooky, monster book all set in a mental institution. I thought it would be a horror-thriller combination. And there were definite moments of creepiness equal to the horror genre. The narrative perspective itself filled me with a different sort of horror - Pepper is checked into the mental institution by the NYPD who find it easier to turn people into this underfunded, understaffed asylum than spend unpaid overtime filling out the necessary paperwork to actually arrest him for the minor altercation.

But the book's narrative perspective (often filled with this type of parenthetical and often humourous omniscient observations) prevented the novel from maintaining its creepy atmosphere. The novel also went off on some substantial tangents - completely summarizing the plot of Peter Benchley's Jaws and the biography of Vincent Van Gogh. The point-of-view, though for the majority of the book aligns with Pepper, made some radical shifts - by the fortieth chapter, the P.O.V. is that of a large, gray rat. The scariness built up in the beginning of the book shifted to more of a social, racial and economic commentary.

Though in the end, Pepper found his purpose, the book had shifted so far from my original expectations that I felt a bit disconnected from it. It is, however, an interesting and surprisingly complex read and one that I may re-visit again in the future.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Literary Trifecta July 23 2012
By DAC - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Pepper is a regular hard working blue collar guy who is know to get in a bit of trouble. Though is most recent run in with the cops has him being committed for 48 hours at mental instiution in Queens, NY on a shoe string budget. Pepper soon finds himself lost in the system and making friends with the other patients, as they struggle to cope with the devil roaming the all and the minds of the residents. What I love about Lavalle's style is his ability to tell it straight, say something profound and make me laugh long and hard. That is a serious literary trifecta. The Devil in Silver is well layered and executed. If you've read Lavalle before this is a must read. If you haven't had the pleasure yet, this is a great place to begin.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Will the Real Devil Stand Up Aug. 31 2012
By Beverly Jackson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
For a novel labeled as literary horror is was an absorbing yet strangely tender read raising questions through the wit, humor and dignity of the fascinating characters. The author gives voices to an invisible often misunderstood population. How Pepper became a resident in a psychiatric ward is totally believable and scary as who does not have some behavior in our pasts that could not be interpreted as a sign of mental illness. During his first night, Pepper is attacked by a hideous creature whose presence seems normal to both staff and patients. But, as Pepper is schooled on the protocols by the other residents - learning the creature is `the devil behind the silver door" is the visible demon as the more deadly demons are often the ones within the mind. Challenged by their restricted environment - the residents dig deep within themselves to slay the devil. It is the touching resident's stories that will linger long after the last page.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Devil has a room in Hotel California Aug. 21 2012
By TChris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A large man who calls himself Pepper is detained for 72 hours of observation in a psychiatric hospital after a run-in with a trio of cops who are too lazy to arrest him. Drugged into a zombie-like state by psychotropic medications, Pepper is menaced by some sort of creature. Is it real or a construct of his addled brain? Is it the Devil or is there a logical explanation for the creature's presence?

As the days go by, the hospital turns out to be a lot like Hotel California: you can check out, but you can never leave. When patients start to check out -- killed by the Devil? -- Pepper decides to investigate. Whatever the thing might be, it lives behind a silver door and staff members seem to be protecting it.

The Devil in Silver is an unconventional horror story. Victor LaValle's accurate rendering of a psychiatric ward is enough to provoke shudders -- more so, in fact, than the resident monster. The novel's strength lies in its characterization of Pepper and the other patients. Their antics provide a large dose of comedy to offset the horror. The sheer loopiness of the story is, in fact, what sustained my interest. This isn't the most politically correct novel you'll ever read, but it's often quite funny.

The best horror stories persuade the reader that the nightmare is real. The Devil in Silver is just too goofy to be frightening, but again, this isn't a conventional horror story. Instead, LaValle seems to suggest that true horror is found in the abuse of power: by trigger-happy police officers, by hospital administrators who place profit ahead of treatment, by clinicians who overmedicate patients because a docile patient population is less work. Some chapters seem like an homage to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, to which LaValle makes occasional reference, but The Devil in Silver moves in a much different direction than Ken Kesey's classic.

While The Devil in Silver is entertaining, it does have faults. The narration calls attention to itself with a flippant attitude and it occasionally speaks directly to the reader (with phrases like "you won't be too surprised to learn"). The narrative voice is distracting; it frequently took me out of the story. A long section devoted to the history of a rat named LeClair is an amusing but unnecessary digression. A chapter that doesn't work very well recounts the story of Vincent Van Gough to make a veiled point about the lack of attention given to institutionalized patients in contemporary America. The ending is a bit of a letdown.

Faults notwithstanding, The Devil in Silver works as light comedy that addresses a dark subject. It isn't easy to avoid burying the serious within the fluff of frivolity, but LaValle manages to balance humor and tragedy in a story that is strange but purposeful.
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