Victor LaValle’s latest novel, The Devil in Silver, tells of New Hyde Psychiatric Hospital in New York, where patients trudge through a drug-induced haze and are visited by night terrors.
From his Q & A at Granta with John Freeman:
JF: The mental hospital novel has such a giant ur-text, let’s address it at the start. One Flew Over ... what do you think of it, and does it need ... updating?Visit Victor LaValle's website.
VLV: I come not to praise Cuckoo’s Nest, but to bury it. It is the most famous novel about mental hospitals but of course it’s really an allegory for the social upheavals the United States would experience in the sixties, the generational conflicts that, by now, are nearly a cliché. But I don’t think America’s conflicts are simply generational now. Instead our battle is between those trapped inside the institutions of modern American life (our economic and political systems in particular) and those who manipulate such institutions for their own profit. Many are miserable, a select few profit from that misery. That new conflict needed a new allegory, so I wrote one.
Have you spent much time in mental hospitals, and how did your experience inform this novel?
I’ve visited hospitals plenty in my lifetime. Some of the people closest to me in the world have been institutionalized, on and off, for decades now. My trips inside, for visiting hours, gave me just the slightest taste for life on the inside. Enough to try to capture the warped nature of institutional life.
The conditions as described in The Devil in Silver are pretty grim. Is it really so bad?
The Page 69 Test: Big Machine.