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The Devil in Silver    by Victor LaValle order for
Devil in Silver
by Victor LaValle
Order:  USA  Can
Spiegel & Grau, 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Perhaps Pepper didn't really belong in the New Hyde Hospital, but that's where he ended up for observation after he attacked three police officers. Once he's admitted to the New York City mental facility, though, the big man is considered just as disturbed as the other folks confined here.

Pepper's situation goes from bad to worse when, shortly after he is admitted to the hospital's psych unit, he is attacked in his room by a bizarre person wearing the head of a buffalo. Was it a dream sparked by the meds he was given or did the event actually happen?

The other patients confirm the fact that a 'hairy devil' roams the hospital's corridors at night and that what Pepper experienced is not an isolated situation. What's even stranger is that the staff is aware of the nocturnal ramblings of the Devil.

Convinced that he can rally some of the patients to help him sort out the disturbing events that have everyone on edge, Pepper puts together a small task force. It includes an octogenarian schizophrenic who has been in the ward for decades, a man with severe OCD, and a bipolar teen. Together this group of misfits led by Pepper will try to get to the bottom of the mystery of the person or thing sequestered behind the silver door. Of course, the pill-pushing medical staff won't make this task easy and are as much of the problem as the mysterious creature.

For those who have read Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, this novel might seem to be revisiting a similar topic. Perhaps, with tongue firmly in cheek, LaValle addresses the similarity of theme early in the book. During a meeting of the hospital's Book Group, one of the characters sets us straight.

Dorry, one of the patients, says that Kesey's novel is not about mentally ill people. 'It takes place in a mental hospital, yes. But that book is about the way a certain young generation felt that society was designed to destroy them. Make them into thoughtless parts of a machine. To lobotomize them. That book is about them, not about people like us.'

A brief discussion follows before Pepper redirects the focus and suggests the group read Jaws. Why? Because since he's seen a monster he thinks it would be fitting to read about one. As the author explains, 'It was like he could only look at the monster obliquely, to avoid being stricken blind by the horror of direct sight.'

Whether this is a gripping morality tale set in a mental ward, an allegory for the cuckoo's nest we all currently inhabit, or a story about those who attempt to slay their own demons and make sense out of the madness around them, who's to say? Make what you want of The Devil in Silver. But, the odds are you'll find this not only a provocative but also enjoyable read and one that may be just a tad unsettling.

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