Posts Tagged ‘characters with mental illness’

I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but it took me about two months to get through the audio book of this novel. Not because of how I was reacting to the book, but COVID-19 has changed my audio-book listening habits in a major way. Which is a pain in the ass when you decide to read more works by writers of color and this particular book and author comes highly recommended. But I finally got through it, so let me tell you about this book I just finished (the audio book of which, by the way, was narrated by the author himself, and he did a great job).

The Devil in Silver follows Pepper, a large man who gets thrown into Northwest at New Hyde Hospital, a mental institution in Queens, New York. Not because of any mental illness, but that doesn’t keep him from being there. And as Pepper gets a crash course in the mental health industry, he also has to contend with a terrifying resident with its own wing of the hospital. A demonic figure, a devil, who seems to enjoy the pain and suffering of other patients. And Pepper finds himself in the unwelcome position of having to face this monster and stop it, lest it hurt him and his new friends in New Hyde Hospital.

Despite the title and the monster mentioned in the second half of the preceding paragraph, the true horror of the story doesn’t come primarily from the devil. It actually comes from the setting: LaValle does a great job of writing about people trapped in an industry that doesn’t always have the well-being of its patients in mind (and quite a few of the characters note this in the story). As someone who has his own share of mental health issues, reading this book, whose author drew on his own experiences with mental illness and mental institutions, made me very much aware of my experience with mental health and the industry, and how much worse it could be things were a little different. I’ve since put a book on the industry on my TBR list, which I hope will further educate me and make me more aware of a segment of society that the rest sometimes wishes to forget exists.

That all being said, the titular devil is scary too. There’s something about a bison-headed monster popping out of the ceiling of a mental hospital, one that enjoys hurting the patients and can manipulate the staff for its own benefit. Just makes the hairs on the back of your neck rise and makes you wonder about what it might be like if a monster such as that existed.

I also really grew to love the characters. Pepper comes off as honest and likable, if impulsive and a bit thick-headed at times. You really got to see him grow throughout the course of the story as he interacts with the other characters and deals with the trials and tribulations set before him. And speaking of the other characters, even the minor ones were given enough development to feel real. Some of my favorites include the Ugandan immigrant Coffee, who really does want someone to listen to what’s happening at the hospital, and the sassy Luchee, a young woman trying to have some semblance of normal given her situation.

If there was anything I didn’t care for, I found the climax to be a bit anticlimactic. I think I get what the author was going for with that ending, but I kind of wanted something more, and I didn’t get it. That, and there are a lot of digressions in the story. Some of these digressions are quite helpful: they help flesh out the world of the story and what the characters are going through. At the same time, there are some that made me scratch my head, like the one from the POV of the rat living on the second floor of the hospital.

But all in all, The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle is both a scary story and a story that hits deep at what it means to be human. And after reading this, I’ll likely read another book by LaValle very soon. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this one a 4.3. Grab a copy and get ready to see a side of life many would rather forget existed.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. As promised, more posts are on the way, including on my recent trip to South Carolina. Keep your eyes peeled. And until next time, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!