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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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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  109 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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What is this about again? Sept. 5 2012
By VMnyc - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The beginning starts off great. I'm there, I'm interested, I'm intrigued. Then the book turned into so many different styles, genres, ideas, that I started to skip pages. Then I would go back hoping to find something more, but I didn't.

Midway through the book, chapters of real life summaries of mental health patients are thrown in, then as abruptly as these couple of chapters are thrown in, they are gone. Is there a monster there or do the patients see a monster? Regardless, the staff just allows 'the Devil' to kill, torture and maim people??? Why the deep character studies, narratives, conversations, names just to suddenly stop talking about them or not elaborate on an important factor about them (Dorry (is that her son??????????? How do you sweep THAT under the rug?) Nurse Josephine, Scotch Tape, Coffee, the therapist guy at book group, Loochie's chapter at the table with her family, the conversation of Pepper and his mom, the folders, Sue, the cops, the Devil-- WHY ALL THIS STUFF??! To just forget about it. They don't escape, determine if the thing is a monster or man, or get released.

OH and there are a lot of racist jokes, ideas, tones, stereotypes etc. LOTS. I suppose he meant it to be funny but I didn't find it so (and I am a New Yorker too so that is not why ;-) If you are not from NYC you may not get 1/2 the references.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unexpected and amazing story... Aug. 21 2012
By T. Sparks - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I love being surprised, and this may be one of the most surprising books I've ever read. When I picked up The Devil in Silver, I was expecting a traditional horror story set in a mental institution. Technically that's what this is, but not in the ways you might be thinking. The Devil in Silver has horror elements for sure, but there are so many touching human moments in the story that a reader might easily be fooled into believing this is literary fiction. But it's so much more than that. LaValle has created something special by blending complex character studies and a horrific presence that may or may not be human into one seamless and engaging story.

Pepper is having a bad day. He's just been arrested for punching a cop, but instead of being taken to the police station, the three cops from the altercation bring him to the New Hyde mental hospital. Once he's checked in and told he must remain there for a 72-hour waiting period, Pepper grudgingly accepts his fate and goes about settling in. But due to some highly potent pills that he is forced to take three times a day, the 72 hours stretches into months, and Pepper realizes that in order to get out of the loony bin, he's going to have to try to break out. His long days and nights in New Hyde are filled with getting to know his quirky inmates, including his roommate Coffee, an older woman named Dorry who greets Pepper when he arrives, and a young teenaged girl named Loochie who is full of unfocused rage but hides a vulnerable spirit. The four become partners in crime as they try again and again to escape the high barbed-wire walls of the hospital, sometimes with tragic results.

But lurking somewhere on the second floor is a creature who might be the devil, a monstrous man-beast with cloven hooves and the head of a bison, at least that's what it looks like to Pepper. Dorry, Coffee and Loochie have all seen the beast as well, and whatever it is, it's dangerous. Pepper and his friends devise a drug-addled plan to not only escape New Hyde, but possibly kill the devil before they go.

One of the best surprises of this book is how funny it is. Lavalle has a true talent for using dialog and narrative passages to boil down the essence of his characters, like this description of Dorry after she goes off her meds:

"She used to look like Angela Lansbury in Sweeney Todd. Now she looked like Angela Lansbury on Murder, She Wrote."

Despite the grim daily life of shuffling through the hallways in a drug stupor and the callous and sometimes cruel treatment of the orderlies, each character still has something that motivates them to go on living. One of my favorite scenes happens late in the book after a suicide. In order for the police to complete their investigation, the patients must leave the facility temporarily, so the orderlies take them on a walk to a nearby pizza parlor. The absurdity of this scene, where the inmates focus not on the opportunity to run away, but on the anticipation of eating pizza in a restaurant outside, is a great example of the irony-filled moments that LaValle scatters throughout his book.

Lavalle's prose is gorgeous, and he often uses the ocean as a metaphor for being trapped in a mental hospital, as in this description of Pepper being forced to take medication:

"It took him hours to swim back to the shores of consciousness. And who was waiting for him right there on the beach? A nurse carrying a small white cup. Casting him out to sea again."

A couple of stylistic choices bothered me a bit, but not enough to change my opinion of the overall story. For example, the author often inserts himself into the narrative by placing personal comments in parentheses:

"Dr. Anand didn't respond to that. (Would you?)"

I also had trouble with some of the POV shifts, which happened suddenly and were a bit jarring. Most of the story is told through Pepper's eyes, and I would have liked to stay there during the entire story. Although I did love one short passage near the end of the book when we get inside the head of a giant rat. Not only does the rat play an important part in what happens to one of the characters, but his story is just as heartbreaking as the stories of New Hyde's patients.

The book is filled with memorable scenes that really have nothing to do with the "devil" of the title, surprisingly enough, and are the things I'll remember most about The Devil in Silver. At first I thought the introduction of a new character half-way through was a bad idea, but when Pepper gets together with a Chinese woman named Sue, LaValle sets up one of the book's most poignant moments. I won't tell you how the story ends, but believe me when I say the ending is perfect, as the author uses The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh as a catalyst for Pepper's redemption. Even the final revelation of the meaning behind the book's title gave me goose bumps, and not the scary kind.

My only worry for The Devil in Silver is that it won't find its audience. This book deserves all kinds of attention, and I hope the label of "horror" does not scare off potential readers. I dare you to take on the devil and read this book.

All quotes in this review were taken from the uncorrected proof and may not reflect the final version of the book.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group for supplying a review copy.
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