Novelist LaValle kicks off fiction series

Published March 4, 2014

Novelist and short story writer Victor LaValle will open the spring 2014 Exhibit X Fiction Series with a reading at 7 p.m. March 6 at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, 341 Delaware Ave., Buffalo.

The reading, which is sponsored by the Department of English, is free and open to the public.

A faculty member at Columbia University, where he teaches creative writing, LaValle is the author of “Slapboxing with Jesus,” a book of stories, and three novels: “The Ecstatic,” “Big Machine” and “The Devil in Silver.”

He is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Shirley Jackson Award. His writing has appeared in Granta, the Paris Review, New York Magazine, the Washington Post and Bookforum, among others.

In his fiction, LaValle tells big stories while addressing even bigger issues, says Christina Milletti, associate professor of English and co-curator of the Exhibit X series.

In “Big Machine,” for instance, racism, religion and terrorism all come to the forefront. He takes on the American health care system in his latest novel, “Devil in Silver,” ostensibly the story about Pepper, a mountain of man who has been involuntarily “admitted” to the psychiatric unit at New Hyde Hospital after a brawl. After doses of Haldol and Lithium, Pepper finds himself stalked by a phantom, devilish “bison.”

In her review, independent bookseller Jenn Northington describes “The Devil in Silver” as a “modern horror story, a takedown of the mental health system and an homage to the psychological thriller all at once.”

Although marketed as a horror novel, LaValle’s fiction refuses to remain safely within the popular confines of the genre, Milletti says, noting that’s pretty typical of LaValle’s work, which has been called a “rambunctious mash-up of horror fiction and social satire” by The Boston Globe.

LaValle resists limits on both form and content, Milletti says. “His fiction addresses race, class and politics as much as the distinctions between science fiction, noir and literary fiction with astonishing ease,” she says.

“He’s a writer who isn’t comfortable being quantified, who shocks and surprises with his insightful look at social systems that aren’t equipped to do the work they’ve been designed for…even as he creates characters and stories that compel you with gripping worlds colored as much by humor as by doubt and deceit.”