Jill's Reviews > The Devil in Silver

The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle
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's review
Aug 14, 2012

really liked it
Read from August 09 to 14, 2012

Many authors love to set their novels in mental hospitals - think of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Greenberg's I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, Lehane's Shutter Island, McGrath's Asylum, and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

The reason, of course, is that the setting allows the author to explore how life inside the cloistered walls of an institution is often indistinguishable from "real" life outside. And so it is with The Devil in Silver.

Pepper (so-called because he is "spicy") is committed to New Hyde Hospital in Queens for a period of 72 hours for assaulting three undercover police officers. Since this is a book that exceeds 400 pages, we can be relatively certain that his stay will exceed the minimal time...and it does. The theme is telegraphed here by one of Pepper's new-found friends: "Everyone in New Hyde is trapped in some way. Patients and staff. You think they ever set foot in a place like this unit? Our lives are a clinical trial, Pepper. We're all being tested."

There is a special wrinkle to this novel: one of the inmates may be the devil himself. The horror element is gradually introduced and woven into the larger tale. There's just enough of the horror element to connect those who enjoy the genre (perhaps, books of Stephen King), yet it never transforms into a true horror novel because of the strong human element.

The main strength of this novel is a very engaging tone by Victor LaValle. The man definitely knows how to write and from the very first page, I wanted to read on. The dialogue is crisp, the characters are compelling, and the novel successfully bridges the gap between literary mainstream and time-honored psychological horror. Mr. LaValle convincingly weaves in important themes of the numbing and moral incertitude of our lives ("Maybe out there is a lot like in here. The United States of New Hyde"), the way we handle those who are "different" including immigrants, the distancing bureaucracies, the ability of love to thrive in the most meager environments, and how we confront the demons that live within and around us.

The weakness is a certain amount of authorial intrusion - leading the reader. Take these lines, for example: "Some might doubt the mentally ill could pull off an orderly queue. Aren't they raving lunatics? Shouldn't they be wandering off or howling at the moon? That's more dramatic, admittedly, but inaccurate." Passages like this show a certain lack of trust in the reader's ability to form his/her opinions.

With a few reservations here and there, I recommend it. Think: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest combined with The Shining, and you'll have an idea of what's in store for you.
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08/10/2012 page 80
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Jeanette (new)

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" I was waiting for your review, Jill, and somehow missed it. Oh well, I'm only a couple of days behind. :-) Thanks for an excellent overview of pros and cons. I love that you define it as a sort of Cuckoo's Nest/The Shining hybrid. Very intriguing.

message 2: by Will (new)

Will Byrnes Crazy good review

Jill Hi Jeanette and Will -- I was on vacation and out of touch all last week. Thanks for your feedback. Getting back in the reading mode again, particularly since I was a little piggy with Vine/Last Harvest this month...!

message 4: by Jeanette (new)

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" I was "piggy" in July, and still haven't caught up!

Jill ...and then WILL "forced" me to get yet another book :) Right now, any new book I get will have to wait 'til 2013!

message 6: by Will (new)

Will Byrnes that bastard!

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