I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Devil In Silver by Victor LaValle

Pepper wasn't supposed to be committed to New Hyde Mental Hospital. He had only been trying to help out a woman he liked with her ex who was causing problems by talking to him, only it got out of hand and he ended up hitting the guy and three plainclothes cops happened by to intervene and he hit one of them too, not knowing he was a cop. So he was arrested. Not a first time in his forty-odd years. The cops, however, were at the end of their shift and wouldn't be paid overtime for processing him, so they had him committed instead and made him someone else's problem.  It wasn't the first time they had done this.  Dr. Arnad, the psychiatrist and head of the section of Northwest Hospital known as New Hyde, was not happy with this but accepted Pepper as an admin on a seventy-two-hour hold.  All Pepper needed to do was play nice for that time and he'd get out. But there's something about a psych ward that makes you a little bit crazy. The meds, Haldol and Lithium, he was forced to take three times a day that made him almost paralytically slow didn't help.

It starts off simply. He wants to make a phone call and Coffee, his roommate is using both phones and is on hold with both of them.  The two get into an argument and when Coffee spits on him Pepper slams into him, which is what the orderly, Scotch Tape (Pepper's name for him) sees and which earns him the rest of the day in his room.  The next day is family visitation day and when the nurse is opening the door to let in Loochie's family he sees an opportunity to escape and barrels into her brother and knocks her mother aside. Loochie won't stand for this and the nineteen-year-old little dynamo jumps him and knocks him down and starts beating on him. This earns him a shot of a sedative plus upping of his meds. When he finally comes down from all this, a month has passed. He's beginning to wonder if he's ever going to get out of there by their rules.

Dorry the emissary of the ward showed him around when he first arrived, as she does all patients since she's been there the longest.  She is one of the first patients New Hyde ever had.  Northwest 1 is for intake; Northwest 2 is for male sleeping quarters; Northwest 3 is for female sleeping quarters; Northwest 5 is the lounge. And Northwest 4 is off limits and he'll soon know why.  Dorry tries to take care of everybody.  She sees them all as her children.

 One night Pepper is visited by a strange half-man-half-beast that came down from the ceiling and tries to kill him. When he screams and eventually someone comes to see what's wrong he goes away.  The creature had white eyes with red veins in them and a bison head with hooves for feet.  He looks exactly like what you'd think the Devil would look like.  During book club when he mentions that he's seen the Devil, Coffee, Dorry, and Loochie all meet up with him later over dinner to discuss with him what they can do about it.  But he wants nothing to do with any plans because he feels he is not like them. He isn't crazy and maybe he just imagined what he saw.  Then the Devil pays another visit to him breaking his ribs with his hoof and nearly crushing his sternum and he changes his mind.

The four of them work together to come up with a plan on how to get into Northwest 4 where the Devil is housed. Coffee plans on trying one more phone call that night to try to reach "the big boss" (the President) to help them with their problem. Dorry hopes to talk to him. And Loochie and Pepper plan on taking it down if necessary.  When he's released, he comes charging and Loochie jumps on it's back and pull on its horns. Coffee is trying to make a phone call at the nurse's station (they've locked up the nurse and orderly). Dorry is just standing there staring, while Pepper ends up tackling its legs. Then everything seemed to wrong all at once with horrible consequences.  Those who survive will have to pay a price for what they did. And things will be different for all of those on the ward after this incident.

But this won't be the last time they will try to take down the Devil or the last time Pepper tries to find a way out of there.  The question is will they succeed in killing the thing that has been tormenting and killing off patients for years or will it kill them all off before they can. Will any of them escape from this place and find their freedom or are they all chained there forever by a broken system?


He was just caught somewhere between wakefulness and sleep. That place where monsters really exist.
-Victor LaValle (The Devil In Silver p 59)
 You don’t want to be awake when your rib cage breaks. When your rib cage breaks you want to be passed out. But somehow, Pepper hadn’t. It didn’t hurt. He’d already gone into shock, which is the human body’s last line of defense. Your body loves you too much to let you really feel trauma like that. So it wasn’t pain that made the breaking rib cage such a terror for Pepper. It was a sound.  

-Victor LaValle (The Devil In Silver p 106)

At nineteen, the world seems so simple. This is because nineteen-year-olds have it almost completely wrong.
-Victor LaValle (The Devil In Silver p 306)
 That’s the funny thing. Men always want to die for something. For someone. I can see the appeal. You do it once and it’s done. No more worrying, not knowing, about tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. I know you all think it sounds brave, but I’ll tell you something even braver. To struggle and fight for the ones you love today. And then do it all over again the next day. Every day. For your whole life. It’s not as romantic., I admit. But it takes a lot of courage to live for someone too.

-Victor LaValle (The Devil In Silver p 343)

Pepper always marveled at this kind of man. Who calculated his value based on some mystery math. Simple addition would assess this man a dud but Louis was using calculus plus.
-Victor LaValle (The Devil In Silver p 344)

That’s when he came to realize that it can be honorable to stand alone, arguing for a righteous cause. But sometimes “taking a stance” becomes confused with “just being an asshole.”
-Victor LaValle (The Devil In Silver p 377)

Van Gogh viewed his work as a kind of “love letter” to humanity. He hoped to be a great artist, but not simply to bring praise upon himself, his talent. (Though that would’ve been nice, dammit.) He hoped to reflect the world’s own glory, with love. An artistic impulse, but one not exclusive to artists. For instance, Coffee. For instance, Dorry. And now, Pepper. The aspiration is so rarely rewarded, or even understood, that most people don’t even try. But wherever it’s found, whenever it’s displayed, it’s an act of genius.
-Victor LaValle (The Devil In Silver p 406)
Link to Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Devil-Silver-Novel-Victor-LaValle/dp/0812982258/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1477928188&sr=1-1&keywords=devil+in+silver

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