Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book Reviews: Divergent and The Devil in Silver

Divergent by Veronica Roth:

The short, feisty heroine of Divergent helps power the reader through the complicated plot, although it's a fun novel to listen to on audiobook. Basically, Chicago is the refuge for humanity, which is divided into five factions. Beatrice grows up in the passive Abnegation, but she yearns to join the brave, violent Dauntless. But when she takes the aptitude test, she discovers she is "Divergent" -- she has no clear group -- which will have consequences for the rest of her life and for that matter the plot. Roth hits a lot of the plot points one expects in YA literature  -- romance, self-reliance, action. But really it's a dystopian funhouse, one that is diverting on long drives.

The Devil in Silver by Victor La Valle

I thought that Victor LaValle's "The Devil in Silver" would be an attempt at genre-writing akin to Colson Whitehead's "Zone One" last year. Fortunately, this novel doesn't fall in the horror genre; rather, it's a literary novel, written from a wandering third-person-omniscient point of view, about society's definitions of insanity and redemption. Three police officers drop Pepper off in the psychiatric unit of New Hyde Hospital (Creedmore?) in Queens. Pepper's violent actions get him committed, and there he learns to cope with the patients he finds: A friendly old woman, a OCD roommate trying to call the president and a teenager committed by her mother. LaValle does a fine job of giving each patient, and several staff members, their own lives as Pepper begins to sort out his feelings. But a devil is loose -- a bizarre creature that apparently lives in the ceiling and assaults, sometimes fatally, restrained patients. The devil is the horror element, but LaValle doesn't try to lay on the terror -- he is much more interested in the ironies of American life after the great recession and what it means to be sane and free. A few plot points feel forced and a bit melodramatic, but otherwise this novel makes you think how you would behave in similar circumstances.

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