The titular devil in LaValle’s The Devil in Silver comes in many forms. Its most obvious is the monster that roams the halls of the New Hyde psychiatric ward at night, attacking patients who leave their doors unlocked. When Pepper is committed against his will after committing a crime he doesn’t fully remember, he quickly comes face to face with this evil. Along with some of his companions on the ward, he sets out to solve the mystery of this hushed up resident of the ward, and break out of the trap they’ve all been caught in.
The more metaphorical devil is the impact of the world around the characters. This book struck me the most in how effectively and empathetically it humanized its characters and their situation. Obvious care was taken not to demonize the people working for the hospital, or reduce and dismiss any of the patients. All of them are fascinating and deeply characterized people, with sometimes heartbreaking, always fully realized stories. The monster mystery takes an inevitable back seat to the major issues plaguing the mental health system, that devastatingly affect the characters in this particular story. I do think the first person perspective limited how much the story could acknowledge that maybe Pepper and some of the other patients don’t have a full grasp on their individual situations, and that the idea of a psych ward itself is not categorically evil, although the injustices these particular patients do experience are too common. There is an aching sadness throughout the story, but the individual characters and their hopes and care in the face of the stacked odds against them cut through what can occasionally be dark and disheartening, to make something much more whole and human.