Once upon a time, in Queens, New York, a man named Pepper got in a squabble with three plain-clothes police officers. The police officers were nearly off-shift and didn’t want to deal with the paperwork involved in actually arresting him, and so they washed their hands of him, more or less, by dumping him in New Hyde Hospital’s psychiatric ward for a three-day observation.
Three weeks later, Pepper is still on the psych ward. Not necessarily because he’s mentally ill, but because he has trouble with rules. He’s a big man, you see, loud and boisterous and rowdy, and accustomed to blustering other people into getting out of his way. None of this behavior does him any favors with the psychiatric staff. He ends up in restraints and medicated into submission.
Gradually, Pepper begins to find his place, even as he works at fomenting insurrection. He makes a friend or two on the ward, while still wondering how the hell he wound up there in the first place; he participates in therapy; he questions procedures; he gets placed back in restraints; he eventually learns the unspoken rules of every institution, which, boiled down to their essence, all say: Don’t rock the boat.
Lavalle’s portrayal of life in a locked ward — the diffidence of the nurses; the casual, if unconscious, cruelty of the orderlies; the burnt-out psychiatrists and their reliance on medication rather than therapy, control rather than cure — rings true. And Pepper’s outraged reaction to his wholly unexpected circumstances is dead on. Even while he plays at accepting his situation, he’s plotting.
As would I.
Many thanks to LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewers program for this book.