Without another thought, Pepper turned right. He crossed the threshold of NW4 without losing a step. He marched toward the stainless steel door. The window in the silver door remained as dark as it had been this afternoon. He wanted to – what – touch it? Open it? He didn’t know yet. As Pepper moved closer to it, the air itself felt warmer. Pepper moved even closer. In lieu of a plan, he focused on the tangible details ahead. The silver door had a handle. The silver door had two locks. Now his face felt as if he had walked through a cloud of steam, moist, sweaty. He smelt something new, like the dirt of a freshly dug grave. At this point, Pepper couldn’t stop himself. He felt that pinch again. Was he walking towards that silver door, or being pulled towards it?
–The Devil in Silver by Victor Lavalle
The Devil in Silver by Victor Lavalle
The Devil in Silver is a horror novel about a man named Pepper who mistakenly picks a fight with a group of undercover police officers, and to avoid filing tedious paperwork, the officers take him to New Hyde Mental Hospital instead of jailing him until his court date. Within the institution, Pepper immediately finds that the trouble he has always had with his temper will not serve him well inside a mental institution, and instead of being released after a 72 hour watch period, he is kept for a more long-term stay. Trapped inside the walls of New Hyde, however, are not only the patients that Pepper passes in the lunch room. A beast lurks within, one that Pepper quickly names “The Devil”. This creature descends from the ceiling tiles to attack the residents before being docilely lead away by New Hyde’s staff without explanation.
The Devil in Silver is a carefully crafted novel, loaded with character development and vivid details of the residents as well as the hospital itself. For much of the novel, I found myself engrossed in what seemed to be a drama, rather than a horror – the Devil sometimes seems more like an interruption to the narration of the residents and their lives, rather than the subject of the novel itself. This had its advantages and disadvantages. The characters were very well-developed, and had interesting ever-shifting relationships based on their own behaviors, but it also made the story drag sometimes, and I occasionally found myself wondering whether the character details and the descriptions of daily life were significant, or if they were just filler until the monster appeared again.
That being said, this novel had heavy doses of realism that was refreshing in a genre that does not often reflect our world. Pepper’s mistaken entrance into a mental ward was fresh and realistic, rather than ill-intentioned like many fake imprisonments in books and movies, and his prolonged stay was due to his own poor decisions, not by any abuse of the system. The primary theme of New Hyde seemed to be disinterest, and this too felt real to me. The underpaid nurses and orderlies wants to keep the patients easy to manage, the only underpaid and overworked doctor wants the ward to run itself without incident, and the patients often allow themselves to be over-medicated simply to fight off the boredom. The omniscient narrator often had surprising but amusing details to add to the plot. For example, when New Hyde gets a new electronic system to store patient files, the nurses struggle and fail to load information again and again. The narrator, however, shares with the readers that the system purchased by the hospital is meant for homeowners to track their mortgages, not for tracking medical records. The nurses never discover this information, and eventually the software is replaced, but this gives the reader the sense that much is overlooked by the hospital’s administration, and the reader is able to develop a deep sense of the dysfunction of this hospital, and by extension the medical industry.
I have admitted that about halfway through the novel, I began to question the purpose of some of these narrative tangents on the patients and the medical staff. However, I strongly feel that this was a novel worth waiting for the end. The resolution of the novel was fantastic, and by the end, I absolutely understood why the author included all of the details about each of the patients and life inside New Hyde. The novel brought a satisfying resolution to the horror plot as well as the dramatic plots of the individual characters, and tied the two together in a way that I had not anticipated.
In all, I would rate The Devil in Silver a 7 out of 10. The horror elements were effective but sometimes scattered, and the drama was realistic but unanticipated. I would recommend this book for horror lovers with a good deal of patience.