Synopses & Reviews
New Hyde Hospital’s psychiatric ward has a new resident. It also has a very, very
Pepper is a rambunctious big man, minor-league troublemaker, working-class hero (in his own mind), and, suddenly, the surprised inmate of a budget-strapped mental institution in Queens, New York. He’s not mentally ill, but that doesn’t seem to matter. He is accused of a crime he can’t quite square with his memory. In the darkness of his room on his first night, he’s visited by a terrifying creature with the body of an old man and the head of a bison who nearly kills him before being hustled away by the hospital staff. It’s no delusion: The other patients confirm that a hungry devil roams the hallways when the sun goes down. Pepper rallies three other inmates in a plot to fight back: Dorry, an octogenarian schizophrenic who’s been on the ward for decades and knows all its secrets; Coffee, an African immigrant with severe OCD, who tries desperately to send alarms to the outside world; and Loochie, a bipolar teenage girl who acts as the group’s enforcer. Battling the pill-pushing staff, one another, and their own minds, they try to kill the monster that’s stalking them. But can the Devil die?
The Devil in Silver brilliantly brings together the compelling themes that spark all of Victor LaValle’s radiant fiction: faith, race, class, madness, and our relationship with the unseen and the uncanny. More than that, it’s a thrillingly suspenseful work of literary horror about friendship, love, and the courage to slay our own demons.
"New Hyde hospital a cash-strapped mental institution in Queens is the setting of Victor LaValle's excellent third novel. Think One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest meets Dante's Inferno. LaValle anticipates the inevitable comparison to Kesey and tips his hat early on, when a patient says that though Kesey's novel takes place in a mental hospital, 'it isn't about mentally ill people.' In the same manner, LaValle makes it unclear who is crazy and who isn't; the overlapping realities of the doctors, nurses, and patients really aren't so different. The omniscient narrator chases many perspectives through the fluorescent-lit corridors of New Hyde even a rat's but the central character is Pepper, a big-shouldered, working-class troublemaker who ends up institutionalized simply because it means less paperwork for the police. Pepper is led to believe he will face a judge after 72 hours, but bad luck and bad decisions keep him at New Hyde always medicated, sometimes restrained to his bed so long the small of his back 'stopped feeling like a curled fist a day ago and now was just a pocket of cold fire burning through his waist.' And you never want to end up restrained at New Hyde. Because the Devil is on the prowl. He is housed or so the patients believe behind a silver door at the end of an empty hallway. At night he visits his neighbors. His heels clop 'like horseshoes on cobblestones.' He has the body of a frail old man, but the head of a bison, with a 'deep, wet pit' of a mouth and 'dead white eyes.' Pepper's roommate a malt ball-headed man named Coffee who spends most of his time trying to phone the president believes, 'The food makes us fat. The drugs make us slow. We're cattle. Food. For it.' The novel is genuinely unsettling as the devil lowers himself from the ceiling, as the doctors and nurses abuse the patients, as a woman commits suicide by swallowing a bed sheet so deeply that its tip is stained yellow with bile but it is also very funny. LaValle has a wicked sense of humor, and the gags often come as a relief, such as when an institutionalized teenage girl in baby-blue Nikes takes down a big man with her 'crazy strength' or a monstrous rat crashes through a ceiling tile, snatches a box of Cocoa Puffs, and scampers through a gauntlet of nurses stomping their feet and swinging brooms. In a novel suffused with the tragic and sinister, humor is necessary, modulating emotion, keeping us off guard. But on occasion, LaValle gets too silly and cute. The hospital administration, always cutting corners, repurposes the building 'like a motherfucker.' And as Pepper sneaks his lover into his room, the narrator says, 'ladies and gentlemen, despite the perceived differences between them and you, the mentally ill like jooking, too!' Moments like these make the tone feel unstable, and the moments of genuine terror harder to take seriously. But these are small gripes. The novel, expertly written, will leave you wondering about its many memorable characters and lingering over questions about fear, horror, madness, suffering, friendship, and love. Benjamin Percy is the author of the novels (forthcoming from Grand Central) and , as well as two books of short stories. His honors include the Whiting Writers' Award, and inclusion in Best American Short Stories and Best American Comics." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“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
“The Devil in Silver is the rare work that takes seemingly disparate parts and brings them together seamlessly into something entirely original. There is madness here, and it is infused with brilliance, and the result is a story that is as illuminating as it is entertaining.” Mat Johnson, author of Pym
About the Author
Victor LaValle is the award-winning author of two previous novels, The Ecstatic and Big Machine, and a collection of short stories, Slapboxing with Jesus. Big Machine was the winner of an American Book Award and the Shirley Jackson Award in 2010, and was selected as one of the best books of the year by the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, The Nation, and Publishers Weekly. He teaches writing at Columbia University and lives in New York.
Reading Group Guide
1. Pepper arrives at New Hyde Hospital in handcuffs, led inside by three cops. What are your first impressions of Pepper because of this? What assumptions do you make about him? How long does it take for those initial impressions to change?
2. New Hyde’s psychiatric unit, Northwest, is located in a public hospital in Queens. In what ways does the author overturn or undermine your ideas of what a psychiatric unit will look like and how it will be run? In what ways does he confirm your ideas?
3. During his intake meeting Pepper learns that he’ll be held for observation for seventy-two hours. He reacts badly to this. How do you imagine you might react upon learning that you were trapped within this system? What might you do differently? Do you think it would help?
4. Dorry explains that she makes a point of greeting all newly admitted patients when they arrive at New Hyde. Why does Dorry do this? How would you imagine you would react to meeting Dorry when you first arrived? Why do you think Pepper and Dorry bond in the way they soon do?
5. Though Pepper protests that he isn’t mentally ill he’s still forced to take medication which has a severe effect on him. How did the introduction of the medications affect Pepper’s behavior? Does our society seem too quick to prescribe pharmaceutical drugs these days? What affect might they be having on all of us?
6. Within days Pepper has met most of the other patients. Coffee, his roommate, seems particularly scared of something on the unit. What did you think of Coffee’s fears before Pepper was attacked and then afterward? What did you think of Coffee’s mission to reach someone, anyone, in the outside world who could help? Was he foolish or hopeful?
7. Do the members of the staff—Dr. Anand, Miss Chris, Scotch Tape, Josephine, and the other nurses and orderlies—seem to be trying to harm the patients? Is the mistreatment of the patients intentional? If not, how might the staff be seen as “suffering” inside of New Hyde, too?
8. How did your understanding of the “Devil in Silver” change as the novel progressed? By the end of the novel did you have any sympathy for “the Devil?”
9. Pepper and Sue enjoy a brief but intense love affair while inside New Hyde. How does Pepper’s time with Sue change his character? Did he help Sue, in the end?
10. Why is Vincent Van Gogh referenced so often in this book? How did Van Gogh’s story come to seem important to Pepper? Why was it relevant to the novel as a whole?
11. Whose death affected you most in this novel? Why?
12. Does Pepper ever get out of New Hyde Hospital? Where do you imagine Loochie is now?