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
Source: Received from a friend.