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Book Review: "Me And The Devil"

Miles Winston |
December 31, 2012 | 12:29 p.m. PST


Tosches' newest book leaves the reader in pornographic purgatory (Little, Brown and Company).
Tosches' newest book leaves the reader in pornographic purgatory (Little, Brown and Company).
Something occurred to me after reading about 70 pages of "Me and the Devil" by Nick Tosches: if a story is poorly conceived and executed, it can be described in its entirety using only one word. This thought came to me before the word itself, though the latter did come, and I think it is evocative.

The word is pornography. I’m not suggesting merely the mechanic obscenities as they play out on the screen, on the page. Let me start by briefly criticizing the aesthetic nature of pornography as an idea that is, in turn, reflected in the author’s writing. Simply put, the “story” is subsidiary or altogether nonexistent in pornography, and by “story” I imply one that has conflict and, most importantly, development. What instead takes precedence are the sensory stimuli, challenged through a eutrophic one-way stream of communication. This bombardment of stimuli has a deadening effect on the reader’s mind (I speak from experience, by the way).

What makes the author’s writing pornographic? Of course, his writing on sex, but moreover his writing on food, philosophy, nature, language, mythology, and perhaps more that I can’t remember. The author is very descriptive, though to the point of gratuitousness and distaste. His words flout what is necessary for the story’s development, so frequently that the story never even shows signs of development at all until around page 300. It can be described as psychologically and intellectually pornographic, a stream of stimuli, a display of the author’s intellectual virility perhaps to impress the reader, but more likely as self-gratification—even masturbation, if you like. 

The character is himself a farce on videocassette, played, rewound, and played again. As I suggested earlier, this becomes apparent only around page 300, when the pornography shifts from the sensorial to the philosophical, from the environment to the individual. I don’t feel the need to attack him—particularly if he is as representative of the author himself as he seems to be—but his childishness strikes me. He seems to have never developed very much—his mind, which constitutes the plot of the book’s final 100 pages, is like a pendulum, its arm swinging between two extremes, yet its pivot sitting inert, merely rotating from a fixed position. The author acknowledges this at one point, realizing that he had not changed (i.e. developed) since his early twenties as he reads through old diaries. Couldn’t we call this a developmental disorder? On one hand we could blame the world for not forcing it upon him as it does for so many of those less fortunate. But forget blame—this character and his insulated childishness—including the egocentricity, ignorance, and incapacity for understanding of a child—is a danger to society. Though he loves to evoke his poor, immigrant roots, the man bears a closer resemblance to the aristocrat—hedonistic, embittered, and aloof. The sort of man whose excess and waste serves as the fuel for popular revolution. What a stretch, right? 

Forgive the disorder of my words; I find both necessary to make the latter more than simple whining. If there’s bitterness in these words, I would hope that you forgive me, understanding that this book was simply a negative experience. I’m sorry, “negative experience” is not the right phrasing; I’ll leave it for contrast. It’s hard to determine though. Perhaps I’ll say that his book was a waste of time, and let that suffice. If anything, I gained a better understanding of the degraded psyche. The character liked to point out the degradation of contemporary American society. Astute observations, I’m sure, though I would hope that he acknowledges his own psychological degradation, being as the two share such a similar trajectory. The subject matter does not offend me, let me make that clear. The violence, the inhumanity—it’s all fantasy, yet it’s very real in the minds of the deluded, and it is manifest as very real phenomena in our society. We must come to terms with that. Rather, the tortuous inertia of this book—marked by what can only be an egocentric display of childish intellectual and philosophical flourishes that wind it only tighter around the author’s ego—is a suffering that I left in high school.


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