Reviewed by Jason Barr
JASON BARR is a teacher in Harrisonburg.
Victor LaValle’s latest work, “The Devil in Silver”, adds to the growing list of recent horror works that focuses on mental illness in the face of Lovecraftian, bizarre creatures.
Essentially, a creature haunts the hallways of a mental institution to which a new patient, Pepper, has been wrongfully committed. Of course, LaValle uses Pepper’s and his fellow patients’ presumed mental illnesses as an engine for the plot: are they insane, or is there a demonic creature roaming the hallways?
If this sounds pat, well, in some ways, “The Devil in Silver” treads ground that has been well-worn. At times, because of the confining nature of the setting, the novel tends to drag, closely mimicing an asylum’s routine but often forcing the reader to debate about skipping ahead a few pages. The “devil” that stalks the characters also misfires: to propel a work of this length, the plot requires a creature that is intimidating and frightening in equal amounts. This creature fails on both counts and the ultimate reveal of the creature’s origin is a bit disappointing; most readers will have deciphered the ending long before they get to the final pages.
That’s not to say that The Devil in Silver is a bad work. LaValle is a good writer, and even though he makes some narrative missteps, he manages to keep the reader engaged for the most part. The most refreshing aspect of “The Devil in Silver”, is that LaValle treats the characters as real people struggling with — but not beholden to — their illnesses. Pepper, Coffee, Dorry, and Loochie are all characters who could be mischaracterized or stereotyped, but LaValle manages to make them realistic and human.
“The Devil in Silver” occupies a strange space: a decently written horror book that isn’t quite horrifying.