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The Devil in Silver: A Novel Paperback – September 10, 2013
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Q&A with 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.
“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
From the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
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When Pepper is admitted to the New Hyde mental hospital in Queens, New York, he’s knows he doesn’t belong there. But as he soon finds out, convincing those around him that he isn’t crazy is the least of his problems. There’s something lurking in the shadows of New Hyde: a creature with the body of an old man and the head of a beast, and it’s slowly killing the patients who live there. Is it the Devil—as they’ve all come to believe—or is it something else? A manifestation of their own inner demons? A sinister conspiracy to produce dead bodies?
In spite of himself, Pepper befriends some of the other patients at New Hyde, and together they plot to take down the Devil once and for all.
It’s an interesting concept, and the plot moves along at a swift pace with some interesting commentary about mental illness and the inhumanity with which our society approaches it. The characters are well-developed (albeit cliche), likable and worthy of our sympathy. But ultimately it’s just not compelling enough. LaValle takes his sweet time building to a climax that’s utterly predictable and underwhelming—and while he’s at it he drags the plot in too many directions.
I enjoyed Lavalle’s earlier novel, Big Machine, when I read it several years ago. I’m not quite done with him as an author, and I think he has an interesting mind. But this one was disappointing.
The characters' lives are connected to the great artist, Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh struggled with his own inner demons and wanted to do good for others even though his efforts were often rejected and he found himself commited.
"Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it. " Vincent Van Gogh
Highly recommend reading!
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.
The characters (seriously, like, every single one) were diverse and well fleshed out. The plot does require some suspension of disbelief (come on, it's a horror story), but not so much that it ruins the experience. And I felt like I actually learned something from this book; I came away just a smidgeon smarter.
Overall the book had engaging characters, an interesting plot, and relevance to the realities of psych units today. It's not going to go down as the next Great American Novel, but who the hell cares? It's a great book to read in your spare time!
Most recent customer reviews
Crap. I have had an ARC of this one sitting on my shelf since 2012.Read more
While I did enjoy the characters and I even managed to laugh out loud on a couple of occasions the...Read more