Review: The Devil in Silver – Victor LaValle

Posted 22 September, 2012 by Linda @ (un)Conventional Bookworms in Reviews / 0 Comments

Warning: This book includes mature content such as: sexual content, and/or drug and/or alcohol use, and/or violence.
Review: The Devil in Silver – Victor LaValleThe Devil in Silver by Victor Lavalle
Published by Spiegel & Grau on 21 August 2012
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Suspense
Pages: 412
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
4 Stars

New Hyde Hospital’s psychiatric ward has a new resident. It also has a very, very old one.

What an accurate introduction to this psychological horror story. Pepper is a big man, he got into a fight with the wrong guys one night, not knowing they were cops. The officers, having just learned that no more overtime was being paid, opted out of arresting Pepper, they rather brought him to New Hyde so someone else could take care of the paperwork in their place. At first, Pepper has no idea where he is being taken, and when he realizes he's being interned rather than locked-up, it's too late to do anything at all. Pepper is given the tour by one of the residents who's been there for a while, grand-motherly Dorry takes him under her wing to make his first evening as pleasant as possible.

*I received a free ARC of The Devil in Silver from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

*Trigger warnings : suicide, abuse by people in a situation of power, murder*

In the beginning, Pepper thinks it’s going to be easy to stay a few days in the psych ward – whatever could happen to him there, right? He learns differently already the first morning, when he gets his medication and immediately loses over an hour of his life due to the medicated haze. He soon realizes that life as he knew it will never be the same, even if he only has to stay for 72 hours. His brain is sluggish, his body doesn’t respond the way he thinks it should, and he is feeling completely out of place. This is where the horror starts! Exactly this could happen to anyone. Being brought to a mental institution by someone who is not really qualified to say you need to be there, then get all drugged up and have no idea what is going to happen to you… Not much could scare me more, actually.

Pepper soon gets into much more trouble than he thought would be possible in a place like New Hyde Hospital. He decides to try to make a break for it on his first day when he sees some visitors who are leaving through the secured door. What he is not counting on is the tiny teenager, Loochie – from Lucretia and the Kroons – tackles him after he slams her mother down on the floor, and he only makes it a couple of steps out of the secured ward. When he comes to several weeks have passed, and he is still there, no officers have come to bring him in front of a judge, and he feels both lost and alone. Nobody has come to look for him, and he knows noone will. This is what makes this story a horror in my opinion – it seems like anyone could have been in Pepper’s place.  Once he is inside New Hyde, he is helpless, and the staff decides if and when he can eat, if and when he can leave his room, and how much medication he gets each day.

The intricate relationships between the patients is wonderfully portrayed. There is a mixture of people who really need to be in a psychiatric ward, and others, like Pepper who probably would have been a lot better off somewhere else. The patients have a common enemy in there, and it surprisingly isn’t the staff! There is one patient, in a room alone in one wing – Northwest 4 – who is called the devil by the folks who have been interned for a while. At one point, Pepper who is still restrained after his little stint trying to leave, is attacked in his bed by this thing who drops down from the ceiling. It takes a while before anyone comes in to his room to help him, after his restraints have been thorn off from his bed, and this thing is using its’ hooves on Pepper’s chest. Again, it’s surprisingly not someone from staff who comes to Pepper’s rescue, it’s old Dorry who gave him the tour when he first arrived. Even when the staff arrives to take the devil out of Pepper’s room, they do not address him, and he is left alone again on the floor, bleeding and thinking he’d been left there to die.

After this event, Pepper is more cautious about how he is behaving and he is careful not to take all his medication after Loochie shows him how to hide it inside of his mouth instead of actually getting all hazy and drugged out again. Pepper wants to leave, and he wants Dorry, Loochie and Coffee to come with him. Needless to say, things do not at all go as planned, and again, the horror of that complete and utter helplessness these characters have to go through is what is so gripping while reading this. They have no say in their own lives anymore, and after this little revolution, they are all sedated for months before they are allowed out of their rooms again. Coffee, however didn’t make it and for once, it wasn’t the devil’s work.

The story is mostly flowing very nicely, however, the overzealous use of parentheses to get a point across started to tick me off after a little while. It was as if the narrator just had to let the reader know something that either wasn’t really necessary, or it was slightly racist and really felt quite forced at times.  I have some examples of that in my quotes further down.

The characters are all well done, even if they are not described in too much details, and since everything is seen through Pepper’s eyes through a third person narrator, the reader only get to understand things the way Pepper does, and he is more often than not too medicated to pay attention to the right things. The interactions between the characters are really wonderful, there is love, there is respect, there is friendship and protection. And it seems like New Hyde is its’ own micro cosmos, exactly like the outside world can appear to be hostile but with some friendly faces to make it all worth it, so is New Hyde. Pepper finds himself with some unlikely allies not once, but twice. And he finally realizes that what he thinks is a good way to help people might not really be the best way for the people he would like to help.

Also, the descriptions of two suicides were a little too much for me, even if both of those kind of had to happen for this story, I would have liked less details, like with the murder that took place; where Pepper wasn’t present and only got a kind of inkling as to how exactly it happened.

<Please knock us out! That's what they were both thinking. Right then Pepper only wanted to disconnect. He didn't want to see what he'd just seen. If he'd seen it. Felt it. Bad dream. Bad dream.

(Pepper didn’t know what he meant by that exactly. A bright draping cloth? A western suit made out of that bright draping cloth? Better to not dwell on it.)

WELL, FUCK. The black guy did die first after all. (Excluding Sam and, possible, Sammy, yes. Amiable white folks that they were.)

How likely was it that such an unreasonable prick would be reasonable now? (Although bullies like that usually act a whole lot nicer when the bullied person has retained counsel. Probably just a coincidence.)

What if one of them got smashed by a passing van? All three staff members would lose their jobs for that one. Not to mention the tragedy of someone gettins smashed by a van. (But really, the fear of losing a decent paying job in 2011 could not be overstated.)

Pepper couldn’t help but imagine Dorry in this cavernous space – how many times? – alone at night. Back here on a mission much too batty to believe. To comfort the Devil. (What the fuck was a Mr. Visserplein?!)


Linda @ (un)Conventional Bookworms

About Linda @ (un)Conventional Bookworms

Linda is an English as foreign language teacher and has a Master's degree in English Language and Literature. She's an avid reader, blogger, compulsive one-clicker and a genre omnivore. Ever since she learnt how to read she has been seen with a book or two in her hands everywhere she goes.

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