Me and the Devil: A Novel by Nick Tosches (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2012. 400 pp)

An American journalist, novelist, and poet, Nick Tosches lives in New York City and is uniquely acquainted with the half-lit world in which Me and the Devil is set.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Little, Brown and Company. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”.

That Uniquely Human Trait

Addiction—a uniquely human trait. It arrives in many forms; it burrows deeply into our psyche and takes control of our actions like a parasite. No matter how much we intellectually react against our addicted nature, we live at the whims of another. It’s alcohol; it’s sex; it’s tobacco; it’s food; it’s a video game. These pleasure-filled actions can take hold and run our lives.

Interestingly, it seems as if addictions transfer from one medium to another. An alcoholic channels his tendencies toward sex; a glutton switches to the cigarette.

No matter the addiction, the question remains: what good can come of it? Is there a way to channel ones desires toward better ends? Or does addiction eat at the soul like a leprous disease?

This question is the focus of Nick Tosches’ Me and the Devil.

The Life of an Addict

Following the salacious life of a writer, incidentally named Nick Tosches, Me and the Devil explores addiction in its many forms. Nick is an alcoholic, a sexual deviant, a glutton, a pill-popper, and a cigarette-chomper.

In particular, Nick’s sexual appetite develops some oddities. You see, he lusts for blood. In encounters with women, he mandates for the life force of his virginal mistresses in a vampiric trance. For Nick, love is no longer made; it is acquired through violence.

“It was not sex that I sought, not as it was commonly conceived. I sought communion, sacrament, transubstantiation, the blood that brought redemption” (22).

What began as simple bites and scratches blossoms into full-fledged access to large arteries. Nick’s odd sexual addiction to blood gives him an altered blood type, strange pigments in his eyes, and a newfound belief in himself as a dark, panther-like deity.

In addition to Nick’s sexual appetite, a large focus surrounds the writer’s physical appetite. Our protagonist is a man of finer things, whether women, clothes, vintage bottles of alcohol, or food.

Food, in fact, often plays a role alongside Nick’s sexual addictions. The appetite for women and for sustenance seems to emerge from the same spot in Nick’s psyche.

“The sun the next morning was bright in a clear blue sky, but the cold could be felt through the walls and closed windows, and it was not hunger but a desire to generate and linger by heat from the stove that moved me to make a breakfast of sunny-side-up duck eggs, good fat greasy duck sausage, and toast, made of the last of that pumpernickel that was going stale the night before, smeared thick with dark apple butter” (94).

The Pros and Cons of Addiction

In its many forms, Nick’s addictive tendencies are leading him toward a path of destruction. Whether relationally, professionally, or bodily, Nick’s unwavering belief in his godlike ascendancy and his disregard for the outcomes of such overindulgence leave him facing death and the devil himself.

For me, the foundational pieces of Me and the Devil which interest me surround the idea off addiction in its pros and cons. For many, the assumption of addiction is negative; it is excessiveness, a process which can only bring pain and potential death.

Yet the objects over which we indulge are, in and of themselves, not objects of moral consideration. Drink can be a good thing, food a necessity, sex the process by which we populate our world. But in excess, the very good things we extol become an evil. They pollute our minds and contribute to an unbalance which influences our lives and the lives of others.

So we try to solve it. But, boy the remedy for addiction is tricky. Tosches, in fact, writes to this idea:

“Old habits die hard. And—an uncomfortable thought—all too often they die only when we do” (182).

Nick’s eponymous character is stuck in a myriad of addictions. He faces a conundrum. Slave away to remove himself of addiction, or embrace his tendencies and ride a roller coaster to hell. Isn’t death the endpoint in either circumstance?

Even though Me and the Devil causes deep rumination, I found its final section rather disappointing. After setting up such an intriguing premise, the ending of the novel fizzles, much like a film airing 30 minutes too long. While graphic, Me and the Devil offers much to consider. Tosches dives into addiction with powerful prose and a keen eye. There are, in truth, many facets to addiction. I just wish Me and the Devil was a little shorter.

Verdict: 4 out of 5

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