Category Archives: Spiegel & Grau

Review: The Devil in Silver by Victor Lavalle

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (August 21, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1400069866
  • Source: Publisher

Pepper is the newest guest in a mental institution, New Hyde Hospital, in Queens, NY. He isn’t mentally ill, instead the police decided to admit him to the hospital to spare themselves from a mountain of paperwork that would be required had they arrested him. Since he was a threat to the authorities, he’s admitted for a mandatory 72-hour stay.  Pepper receives a tour of the facilities from Dorry, a schizophrenic woman in her eighties who has been in the ward for decades. She knows all it’s secrets, specifically a wing that she warns Pepper must avoid at all costs.

The first night, Pepper is visited by a devilish creature with the head of a bison and the body of an old man. His life is spared when his room is entered by hospital staff and Pepper is given a cocktail of sedatives to calm him. When he awakens, days later, his experience is confirmed by other patients. A devil roams the halls of the hospital at night. Pepper teams up with three other patients in an attempt to rid the hospital of this horrid creature: Dorry, Coffee (a man with severe OCD who has been trying to warn the outside world of the dangers that reside in the hospital) and Loochie, a bi-polar teenage girl.  Their attempts are thwarted by the pill-pushing hotel staff.  Not helping their efforts are the meds they are forced to take: incredibly strong, mind-altering sedatives.  When the identity of the “Devil” is confirmed, Pepper begins to wonder if they monster can be, or should be, killed.

At the surface, The Devil in Silver resembles your typical horror novel. In actuality, it’s not a horror novel in the least bit. Instead, it is a character study of three of the patients, an exploration into their own personal devils and demons.  The transition from horror to a more standard set of fiction takes place midway through the book, a change that may throw off readers expecting something different. That said, this transition into an almost completely different piece of fiction is what makes this book stand apart, in this reader’s opinion. Lavalle explores a whole host of issues, satire and critique surrounding mental health institutions in our country. The reader will sympathize with the fate that has been dealt to these individuals who represent mentally ill patients as a whole. Additionally, the author attacks other key social issues head-on, including race relations, the current economic status of our country, and more.

So, for those of you interested in this book purely because it is labeled as a horror (as I was!) you may be disappointed. As an avid fan of horror, I was instantly drawn into the premise of the book: a monster roaming the halls of a mental institution. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed when the plot shifted, but I was certainly taken off guard. After turning the last page, I thought about this novel for nearly a week, trying to grasp and understand my thoughts after reading it. Ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised. A student of psychology and sociology, I commend Lavalle for this truly unique and wholly rewarding exploration of our society.

Bottom line: if you are looking for a standard horror novel, full of monsters and gore, keep walking. If you are looking for a completely rewarding character study of the human condition, of our society, pick up this novel. You will read it with eyebrows raised, questions looming in the back of you mind but hopefully, when the last page is turned, you will have the same experience I did.  Highly recommended.