Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult horror
Year Release: 2012
Source: Library audiobook
|Listened to the audiobook
Victor LaValle’s works have consistently capture New York City on page in ways not often seen in other forms of media. There’s the variety of characters from all walks of New York life, and the nature and spirit of the city is as much a character as the characters, especially in this bottle episode of a book taking place in an asylum in Queens. Pepper, our trouble-making protagonist, finds himself at New Hyde Hospital following an altercation. When he’s kept there for more than the initial 76-hours of monitoring, he makes unsettling discoveries. Like the devil living in one of the wards, the one the orderlies and doctors don’t believe exists.
The way LaValle captures helplessness against a system is superb. At every turn, the doctors manipulate records, dosages, etc. to eliminate knowledge of the Devil, even though the patients all believe each other. The relationships are rocky, but there are some moments of sweetness to violent encounters. The morality here is a bit gray, as patients have different definitions of survival. Throughout, there is a profound feeling of abandonment, a system that doesn’t care about the very real danger stalking the halls.
In addition, this book takes its time cultivating that sense of helplessness. Digressions span different histories, from Van Gogh to silver mining, highlighting various groups who have been abandoned in the name of advancement. It is masterfully pulled off, even as you’re terrified of things going bump in the night and what those medications are actually doing.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with very loose allusions to mythology, Victor LaValle artfully adds layers to horror tropes in this earlier work of his.