The Devil in Silver
By Victor LaValle
(Spiegel & Grau)
At New Hyde Psychiatric Hospital, patients trudge through a pill-induced haze, an unseen administration concocts arbitrary restrictions, and a buffalo-headed monster terrorizes the patients at night. Pepper gets himself admitted here when, trying to defend his new hook-up from her ex, he unwittingly assaults three undercover police officers, and they aren’t willing to clock unpaid overtime by arresting him. A few days later, she tells him he was out of place trying to “rescue” her like that and breaks it off.
In Victor LaValle’s The Devil in Silver, Pepper, the other characters and even society itself need to take a step back, re-consider, and figure out how this whole metaphorical bed was shat. Initially, the characters fire blame in all directions: on police, hospital administrators, government, economics, “The System,” themselves, each other. Unfortunately, the problem is everything, and the conditions at the mental hospital come to stand in for the general insanity and brokenness of modern life. Devil evokes One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; it’s hard to tell who is sicker: the patients, the authority figures, or the structures they inhabit together.
The Devil in Silver will be touted as a horror-thriller, but that’s reductive. It’s an expansive social commentary and self-lacerating bildungsroman that also happens to scare the shit out of you sometimes. The most horrifying moment, though, may be when one character, on the cusp of escape from the hospital, commits grisly suicide instead. The world’s illnesses loom over the fences at New Hyde, and this death highlights that any kind of escape is a pipe dream. In LaValle’s world, there is no flying over the cuckoo’s nest. You’re stuck in it.