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The Devil in Silver: A Novel Hardcover – August 21, 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 125 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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

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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: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (125 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #963,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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.
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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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