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The Devil in Silver: A Novel Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; First Edition edition (August 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400069866
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400069866
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 6.3 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #607,887 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Q&A with Victor LaValle

Victor LaValle

Q. The Devil in Silver is a haunting novel about a man named Pepper who is mistakenly committed to a mental hospital in Queens, and the saga of his attempts to escape. What inspired such an idea?

A. This book began with a personal incident. Ten years ago someone close to me was committed to a mental hospital in New York. (I'm keeping things vague to protect his anonymity.) On my first visit I found him tied to his bed with restraints. The staff assured me he'd be released soon. On my second visit he was in restraints again. On my third visit, when we were alone, I asked when they took him out of those restraints. He looked exhausted. He said, "They don't."

The plot lines and characters didn't come to me until 2010 but the seed of this novel was planted that day.

Q. Gary Shteyngart has called you the "new master" of "literary horror." What is literary horror?

A. It's a genre full of scares but one where the characters are more important than the gore. The Devil of my title is vitally important, but the people you meet inside the hospital are the novel's true concern. Shirley Jackson has been a real inspiration in this vein because she balanced external horrors and psychological depth with perfection.

I happen to be a lifelong fan of horror movies. In certain kinds of horror films the cast is really just meat meant to be chopped up by the monster. In those flicks, fun as they are, the characters are interchangeable and their deaths rarely mean much. But in another kind of horror film the trials characters face, their deaths, do mean something. We care about them and this makes their fates more frightening. The Devil in Silver is a story like that.

Q. Are you thinking of any movies, in particular, that might have the same tone?

A. For sure. Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby is a classic film and seems like "literary horror" to me. That movie is about a woman who is tricked into bearing a baby for the Devil, but really it's a series of frightening portraits: Of New York City in the late-sixties; of the state of being newly married to someone you can't trust; of the wild New York characters living in one building; and even of the spooky building itself, the vast and haunting Dakota. Trapped within all these circles of strangeness is one sane character, Rosemary. That movie isn't chilling because of the scene where an actor wearing furry gloves climbs on top of Mia Farrow. Instead, it's a great work of horror because we care about Rosemary and want her to be safe despite all the forces allied against her. It's the same for Pepper, and for all the other characters in The Devil in Silver. We want them to be safe. We want them to survive. The horror seeps in as we recognize that not all of them will.


"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

"...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 in a noirish way." -Boston Globe

"...LaValle performs A DIZZYING HIGH-WIRE ACT: He balances social satire, horror, and mordant humor, but never jettisons genuine affection and empathy for even the most damaged of his characters." -The Washington Post

"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

"EXTRAORDINARY." -Paste Magazine

Advance praise for The Devil in Silver
“Literary horror just found a new master. Profound, and profoundly terrifying, Victor LaValle’s The Devil in Silver is a page-turning delight.”—Gary Shteyngart
"Victor LaValle is a brilliant lunatic who's written a brilliant novel about lunatics. The Devil in Silver is what happens when a truly gifted writer decides he wants to scare the living &#^$%* out of the reader." -Mat Johnson, author of PYM
Praise for Victor LaValle’s Big Machine
“Unruly and entertaining . . . a monumental dream work.”—Los Angeles Times
“Spectacular . . . sprawling, fantastical.”—The Washington Post
“Magnificent.”—Chicago Tribune
Winner of the American Book Award
Winner of the Shirley Jackson Award
Winner of the Ernest J. Gaines Award

More About the Author

Victor LaValle is the author of a short-story collection, Slapboxing with Jesus, and two novels, The Ecstatic & Big Machine.

His most recent novel, Big Machine, was named a best book of 2009 by Publishers Weekly, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and the Nation. Big Machine was awarded the Shirley Jackson Award for best novel, the American Book Award, and the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence.

Other prizes include a Whiting Writers' Award, a USA Ford Fellowship,a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship, and the key to Southeast Queens.

Customer Reviews

Believable, whole characters that I cared about.
Margaret Foster
Sometimes I found that it added to the story and other times I found it a little distracting, but not enough to ruin my enjoyment of the book.
Laura Jennison
Complex cast of characters and indictment of public mental institutions.
Chris Johnson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By DanD VINE VOICE on July 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Yolanda S. Bean VINE VOICE on August 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By DAC VINE VOICE on July 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Beverly Jackson VINE VOICE on August 31, 2012
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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 50 REVIEWER on August 21, 2012
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.
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