That Tosches possesses a brilliant mind is undeniable. The first page of Me and the Devil hints at what lies ahead: a novel of self-revelation, a journey to the dark unavailable to the faint of heart. The inherent challenge—enter if you dare—is aptly fulfilled in writer Nick’s year of living dangerously, death nearby, amused. What is left when all of life has been tasted? Published author Nick’s New York apartment is well-appointed, stocked with pricey spirits of every variety and the usual delicacies of a sophisticated palate, handsome clothes, a library of valuable books by the great minds of the ages.
Having sampled all that life has to offer a man of extravagant appetites (though still thirsty), Nick yearns to recover the marrow of his youth in spite of years of alcohol abuse and jaded sexuality. Redemption arrives in the form of nubile female flesh. Young Eve throbs with vitality. Casual insouciance wins the young woman’s interest, Nick’s eyes world-weary, his subtle wit disarming. Deviance from the norm of random coupling adds flavor to an odd pairing, a near vampiric sexual orgy in which Nick fantasizes the taste of human blood, his own transubstantiation into the realm of the gods.
While Nick indulges in his newfound passion, sexual nirvana fueled by blood lust, his lifelong battle with the bottle continues despite enforced sobriety. A self-confessed alcoholic, Nick flirts with a twelve-step program but is intellectually unable to accept defeat or entertain submission, still in thrall to alcohol despite its obvious ravages. Pursuing a cure—a pill that supposedly removes obsession—Nick holds out, determined to outwit his demon and his satanic muse, vacillating from periods of sobriety to hallucinogenic drunkenness, the oblivion of sex nearly as powerful an aphrodisiac but never quite enough: “If I could not bear the truth, I could at least close my eyes in the comfort of a lie.”
In the end, the sexual odyssey is tawdry, a shabby stage for the playacting of broken souls. Eve becomes disposable when she fails to elevate him to sustainable heights, even the taste of blood and urge to copulate vestiges of the fury that consumes him. He is a lonely, selfish creature, a user of women, a name-dropper who hobnobs with those who dabble in scorn and whose lives, though vastly varied and rich in experience, fail to alleviate boredom (or the creeping fear of death). Grasping for the nectar of the gods, Nick chokes on the swill of his own humanity, unable to leap beyond the limitations of the flesh.
Dance as wildly as he may, plumbing the depths of degeneracy cloaked as passion, Nick cannot escape the prison he has built and protects like a sacred bower, where intellect and superiority trump the banality of sobriety, when alcoholism becomes the excuse, the pied piper of self-destruction. The brilliance of the early chapters grows dull with repetition, a man’s attempts to discover the elixir of life an exercise in mental masturbation. What a great mind, this raptor of words and women. And what a sad man, genius washing away in a sea of self-deceit.