The Devil in Silver, Victor Lavalle’s frightening new novel is ultimately a haunted house story. Here though, the haunted house is a mental hospital, and the “devils” tormenting the patients fall into three categories; systemic, mental, and literal.
First, the system. When Pepper, our hero, is brought to New Hyde’s Psych ward, he’s not entirely sure why he’s there. Confused and disoriented by an intentionally messed up system, he finds himself trapped, medicated, and pigeon-holed as a patient. Initially blinded with rage at his circumstances, Pepper slowly begins to realize he has to learn to play their game if he’s going to have any hope of escaping.
He learns this through encounters with the second, his fellow patients. Tortured by OCD, Shizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Delusional states, and other sever mental illnesses, he sees them at first as the nurses and doctors see them, dangerous, disturbing, and in need of being saved from themselves. Unfortunately the overtaxed, underfunded staff have chosen to medicate their charges, barely treating them outside of feeding them pills. Pepper is angered by this, until he sees what happens to some of them when the medication stops.
The third is a violent creature stalking the patients. This frightening, demonic figure preys on them at night, and the patients fear it dropping from their ceiling, taking them in the night. The staff seem uninterested in helping, and so they must help themselves.
Victor Lavelle is a masterful writer. His rhythmic style and careful character-building draws you in to the characters. At various times there are no villains, and at others the story is lousy with them, and no villain is greater than the system itself. Lavelle succeeds at giving the reader an exciting, thrilling story that masks a very effective look at how complex mental health is, and how an overtaxed, underfunded system fails its victims; the sick and those who try and care for the sick.
Victor Lavelle is a young author to be watched, a powerful new voice in fiction unafraid to set tales in the real world, and show us horrors both fantastic and all too real.