By James Rickman
Image: Deborah Feingold
Image: Deborah Feingold

I'm going to move quickly past the premise of Nick Tosches’ new novel, Me and the Devil — middle-aged writer finds fountain of youth in the torn skin of young women’s thighs —  and set aside (for now) the moral morass of a book with a female character who “liked to be raped after bathing in warm water and milk.” Possibly in self-defense, my mind kept jumping around as I made my way through the brutal sex scenes, the curmudgeonly rants, the long dialogue between the two titular characters, during which the narrator keeps vomiting ghost-rats. By the end, I had scribbled down a handful of ways to approach the book, which I present to you now.

1. Let’s Build Your Vocabulary, with Dr. Nick Tosches
Hi, everybody! Extremely obscure words, like ethnic slurs and descriptions of teeth (mostly his dentures, mostly as they’re biting into thighs), are common in this book. It might be fun to list a bunch of them, in context, and link to the defininitions as needed. Example:

Irrumatio “With fellatio, the mouth was active. It performed on the cock. With irrumatio, the mouth was passive. It got fucked like a cunt.”

Other contenders include hurkle, pullulate, petrichor, phoinicizein, chrism, eidetic, and hamadryad. Which makes me wonder: with a vocab like that, couldn’t he have come up with a few synonyms for “cock”?

2. Weird Dude Solo Albums
I haven’t read any of Tosches’ rock criticism, but I have found a spoken word album under his name, entitled For the Taking. It came out in 2006, although the tracks behind Tosches’ craggy voice belong to the age of Enigma. I can picture a sticker on the CD cover running something like this: “If you like William Burroughs’ Dead City Radio, David Lynch’s Crazy Clown Time, and Jim Morrison’s An American Prayer (not that similar, except for the cock references), you’ll love For the Taking!

3. Skeletons in the Canon
Yacht Rock lovers, rejoice: Tosches once wrote a biography called Darryl Hall/John Oates: Dangerous Dances. In The Nick Tosches Reader, he calls it “the worst extended piece of shit I ever wrote.” I was reminded of Invasion of the Space Invaders, the fucking video game guide Martin Amis wrote a decade into his career (exhumed by the Millions in what must be one of this year’s best articles). So we could talk about famously shunned or renounced works — from the appallingly bad Dune movie (not to harp on Lynch again, but at least one cut of the movie is credited to Alan Smithee) to Auden’s “September 1, 1939.”

4. “The Bestiality on Your Bookshelf” Addendum
Early this year, in response to a Slate article on zoophilia, I searched my books for instances of “hot human-on-nonhuman action.” Me and the Devil offers a few additions to this list, e.g. “Grabbing her buttock to both steady her and fill my hand with her, my mouth still to her flesh, I began to fuck her shoe.” Shoe-ophilia would be too obvious a name (as would heelophilia), so I don’t know how we might classify this one. Honestly, if they were my shoes, it would be Ineedthosetowalkophilia.

5. Milk With Knives in It: Mix and Match Drugs the Nick Tosches Way!
Valium and milk. Baclofen (an anti-spasmodic that the narrator uses to treat his alcoholism) and … alcohol. Cigarettes and coffee, known here as “Mexican breakfast.” The tips are abundant, as are references to New York bars, like the dearly missed Lakeside Lounge.  Somehow, among the hallucinations, blackouts and bloodlettings, there are bolts of clarity:

Alkies are the most ingenious and expertly devious people in the world. The simple truth is that they never apply these qualities to anything worth a damn, and, worse, can’t even tell when these ingrained traits are working independently of them, and against them.

Much of the book reminded me of A Clockwork Orange — the American/Kubrick version, the one that ditches the redemptive final chapter and ends with “I was cured all right.” The Nick that lives within Me and the Devil is something like that un-redeemed Alex 30 years later, hunched over his Moloko Vellocet, giving lie to Burgess’s idea that “senseless violence is a prerogative of youth.” The creative urge that Burgess champions as the antidote to bloodlust is also in evidence here — the book itself is the evidence — but Tosches seems to argue that, without abused flesh, there would be no creation.

I’m not sure I agree — hence these attempts to tapdance around it. If you believe in the cleansing effects of unfiltered ugliness, read Me and the Devil. Meanwhile, here’s another one: Nick Tosches, Christian Grey, and R-Patz walk into a bar…