The Devil in Silver by Victor Lavalle

Originally posted 2016-12-03 12:00:52.

On Halloween, a book site that I am a fan of on Facebook posted a list of some underrated scary novels. One of the most highly recommended books on this list was Victor Lavalle’s The Devil in Silver. Whoever posted this list is fortunate that I do not remember their identity, as they have narrowly escaped some intense public shaming.

The Devil in Silver is one of the most painful books that I have ever had the displeasure of enduring. If you read my blog regularly, you know that I don’t give away this title lightly. This is the story of a 300 pound man named Pepper who has been unfairly incarcerated in a mental institution. I spent the entirety of this novel struggling to accept the fact that “Pepper” was in fact the name of a man and not an exotic dancer. Pepper befriends some of the other patients, and comes to learn that the most famous resident of the Newhide Hospital is the devil himself. The devil sometimes sneaks into patients’ rooms at night and, from what I have been able to gather, stomps on them with his hooves. Then he goes back to his room. Although the devil’s presence doesn’t seem to overly-disturb anyone else, Pepper valiantly assembles a rag-tag team of drillers and prepares to save the planet. Actually had that have happened I would not have been entirely surprised, it would have been an improvement to the plot as it stands. Anyway, he and a few other patients go to show the devil what’s what. But they fail. Then they try again but also have an escape plan thrown in there I think, but that one fails as well. By the end most of the patients are dead, Pepper remains a patient, and I have no idea what happened to the devil, although it is suggested that he may have just been an old, old patient and not the devil after all.

Lavalle’s writing is about on par with a somewhat advanced middle-schooler. He tries to incorporate depth by adding a poorly-executed parallel between Vincent Van Gogh and Pepper – one that I am still trying to decipher. There is a random love affair, one that features perhaps the most romantic line ever to be uttered: “I like those nipples.” Yeah. This book somehow got published. It was even on Audible; I suspect listening to these sweet nothings was even more tortuous than manually trudging through it.

“Was that racist? Probably” appears dozens of times in the text. Any time any characters says something that could maybe be construed as racist, Lavalle tosses in this gem. Which, in effect, makes the whole novel seem pretty darn racist since he is constantly drawing attention to the potential presence of racism.

I have no idea if the devil was supposed to be real, metaphorical, or symbolic of Vincent Van Gogh. Moreover, this book was not scary – other than a general fright generated by the atrocious dialogue. Awful. Terrible. Nothing about The Devil in Silver is remotely tolerable. The only terrifying aspect is that it is truly making me question my aptitude for selecting books.

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