Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle

I showed the truly stupidly terrible version of this cover in one of my previous posts (NOT #coverho approved), so I thought I'd back off that and give you the much more widely-recognized cover. Now that we have that out of our systems.

Victor LaValle, as I've come to find out, is an incredibly interesting guy. He writes about truly personal topics like mental illness, religion, and race. All topics that pop up in The Devil in Silver. I hadn't heard too much about this book on the front-end so I was surprised to learn that it was received with some pretty stellar accolades when it was published:

--Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2012
--New York Times Notable Book 2012
--Washington Post 50 Best Books of 2012


This is the story of Pepper, a man who is brought to a psychiatric hospital because the cops are too lazy to book him at the police station and work unpaid overtime. While he's only supposed to be held for observation for 72 hours, things go awry and he is held for months with no release in sight. He meets a truly memorable cast of characters...Loochie the terminally institutionalized teen; Coffee, hell bent on phoning the President to tell all about the horrible conditions in the hospital; and Dorry, a mother figure to them all. But the most sinister part of this book is the devil who roams the halls at night with the body of an old man and the head of a bison, taking victims at his whim.

This whole book is very metaphorical. While the devil is real in the pages of this novel, he represents terror and misunderstanding, plain and simple. All of the patients have their own stories, abhorrent and degrading, but they also form a tight community. They are not animals, as so many on the outside expect. They are complex human beings, just like everyone else. The characterization in this book was definitely one of the highlights for me. The characters made me keep turning the pages. 

On the other hand, I struggled with some other aspects of this story. It felt like LaValle had too many balls in the air at times. Issues of race popped up over and over. While I enjoyed analyzing those bits, they seemed superfluous to other "big issues" at play here. The mental healthcare system in America was definitely under the microscope. LaValle examined the ways "normal" people perceive those with psychiatric issues, but he also examined the ways the system can affect those who are institutionalized. What harm does the system inflict? It just seemed like when issues of race cropped up they were handled in a much more off-hand manner. It wasn't fully fleshed, and it sort of fell to the wayside or seemed flippant, which, from watching interviews and such, I don't think was the author's intention.

I'm glad I read this book, as it definitely falls into the category of "diverse reading" that I'm shooting for in 2014. But unfortunately, the execution fell a little short. 

Pub. Date: September 2013
Publisher: Random House
Format: E-Book
ISBN: 9780812982251
Source: Received from a friend.


36 comments:

  1. It sounds interesting but your review will have me look for a library version. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I hope you enjoy it if you give it a try, Ciska. I've also seen some recommendations for one of his other books, Big Machine, that lead me to believe I might like it better.

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  2. Oh man. I'm sorry to hear it fell apart, because it sounds like a REALLY fascinating book. :(

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    1. It's still pretty fascinating to mull over and pick apart. It's definitely a memorable book with a lot going on.

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  3. Hmm. Books set in mental institutions can be quite intriguing. There are so many directions you can go. I have a good friend who works in the nearby hospital that caters to criminals in particular. The stories she tells . . . She always says she can never do what I do, and I say I don't think I'd want to do her job!

    Anyway, I am glad the author captures the humanity in the characters--because truly people in places like that are human and complex. It's too bad it wasn't better, but it does sound like a worthwhile read.

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    1. Wendy, back in the day when I was teaching high school, my mom worked in a psychiatric hospital admitting patients for the night shift. WOW. Although, sadly, some of our stories were oddly similar from education to mental health. Hmmphf!

      He definitely does an admirable job capturing the characters' humanity. I'd still say it's a worthwhile read.

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  4. You make this one sound interesting even if it isn't my usual type of read. Haven't heard of it before now. Sorry it fell a bit flat for you after a promising premise.

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    1. Yeah, it isn't my usual either, but Heather from Capricious Reader and I decided to branch out and try something new. It was definitely worth trying even if some parts fell flat.

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  5. That's too bad it couldn't keep it together!

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    1. I know, right? Still worthwhile, though.

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  6. I felt the same way about the (I guess?) prequel to this, Lucretia and the Kroons, which is about Loochie, presumably the same one who shows up in this book. Parts of it were really interesting and good, but overall I thought the premise outshown the execution.

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    1. Ahhh, I didn't realize there was a prequel. Or at least another Loochie book. She was a really interesting character, but it'll be a little while before I try more of LaValle's work.

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  7. I had never heard of this book before now. Mental institutions are indeed interesting settings but the whole head of a bison is a turn off for me (metaphorical or not.) Reminds me too much of the 1st episode of American Horror Story: Coven (which I only made it about 15 minutes into that first episode.) Thank you for your honest review and I look forward to your upcoming suggestions.

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    1. Rhiannon, I think I only made it 15 minutes into the very first American Horror Story before I was like, "Yeah, this is too much for me." lol

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  8. He had a LOT of vision and a WHOLE LOT to say. I think it fell apart a little bit under the weight of all that. I did enjoy it enough to read more by him.

    Oh. BTW. I have Lucretia and the Kroons. Had NO IDEA it was Loochie!

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    1. Yep. Agreed. Gotta be careful with that many balls in the air.

      And that's cool re: Lucretia and the Kroons. I'll have to look that one up and see what it's about...besides Loochie.

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  9. I think I'll let it pass from your review but it did sound promising.

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    1. Thanks! Yeah, they can't all be 100% winners. It was an ambitious book, that's for sure.

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  10. This sounds like an intense book! The idea of accidentally getting trapped in a mental hospital sounds terrifying enough that I'm not very excited by the premise of this book. Given that you didn't love it, I think I'll probably pass on this one.

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    1. Very! It was an interesting premise and promised a lot of horror on various levels, but it ended up being less horrible and more thinky. Not a bad thing, but just odd.

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  11. Having worked in healthcare a couple of years ago I do enjoy reading books with that as a setting/premise. I get all riled up about all the craziness that is our healthcare system! Needless to say, another one for my list.

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    1. I think you'd probably like this one, Iliana, if you enjoy stories about mental healthcare. I'd be interested in your "take" on this book since it does have the fantastical elements and some odd characters...mental healthcare workers included.

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  12. I enjoyed this book but I think my expectations were maybe a little too high after reading his previous, Big Machine.

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    1. Christine, I definitely want to check out Big Machine. I've heard more good things about it.

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  13. Reading your third and fourth paragraph I was thinking I need to buy this book, it sounds so interesting. I read and noted your concerns, but I think this book might still be an interesting read for me, because of the topic.

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    1. Awesome! I hope it's a winner for you, Melinda. I can easily see how many people would enjoy it very much, I just had a few quibbles with it.

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  14. I had similar thoughts about - just too much going on - mental health, race, immigration issues - yikes! And there were interesting parts, but sometimes it was a bit too ... farcical. Still, I don't think I'll forget "Pepper", so that's saying something.

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    1. That's a great point, Tanya Patrice. I think the characters and some of their actions will stick with me for a very long time. That's a huge positive that counteracts some of the issues I had with the book.

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  15. Hmmm . . . it sounds like it would have had some promise, but I guess not. I'll skip it. Thanks for the fab review.

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    1. I think you'd get bogged down in this one. I almost did, but I pressed on! I want to try something else of his. Sounds like Big Machine might be the way to go.

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  16. Interesting. You mentioned the book also tackles the topic of "religion," but you didn't go into that in your review. What's the religious angle?

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    1. It's a smaller concern. There's some talk of the beast in this book quite literally being the devil. It requires some of the characters to confront that possibility in their own beliefs, but it's a minor concern next to bigger issues like race and the mental health system.

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  17. Sheesh--I'd never even heard of this one before. I think I'd really like to give this one a go sometime.

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  18. Too bad this one fell flat for you. LaValle's short story, Lucretia and the Kroons is a sort of prologue for this book. I can definitely recommend it - just skip the very last paragraph of the story. :-)

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  19. I know exactly what you mean about being glad to have read this one but feeling that it fell a bit short. I was left with the same nagging feeling. It was definitely very far out of my comfort zone as well - I never read horror books!

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