Rating: 4 stars
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At the age of seventeen, Jameson and Oakland were caught together and sent away. For eight months, they were told they were sick and wrong and that the must fight against the devil inside them. They never saw each other after that and they both have fought hard to remember that they are not gay.
Jameson is drowning in his own self-hatred. He still tries to please his parents and he still tries to please his church and he wants more than anything for the feelings he has for men to go away. When Jameson can’t make the feelings disappear, he tries to cut them out in a haze of alcohol.
Oakland ran away from his parents and never looked back. He has tried to live the life expected of him, but his marriage is suffering under the weight of his self-loathing and all the alcohol and pills he puts into himself. Oakland’s not honest with his therapist and many days he just wishes it would all be over.
When Jameson and Oakland meet again, all their old feelings resurface, but this time it’s too hard to bottle them back up. But neither man is ready to admit that they are gay and, although they loved each other once, there is nothing easy about a potential second chance.
Nicky James is known for angsty books and The Devil Inside starts right off with Jameson and Oakland in present day. They both went through “conversion therapy” and their lives have never and will never be the same. They were both changed forever after being sent away and we get caught up quickly on where they are in life. They are both filled with self-hatred and loathe everything about themselves. They struggle at work and punish themselves for their impulses. James does a good job here of showing how deeply the men truly despise themselves and the toll those eight months had on them.
The book remains solidly in the present day. We are not shown anything that happened while they were in conversion therapy, nor are we shown any scenes of their earlier friendship and first love. When they meet again, it is a constant struggle for Jameson and Oakland to fight their natural impulses to want to be together. Jameson has his faith and his religious parents and Oakland has a wife, and the struggle they have is real. And the book is about that struggle.
There are many scenes of addiction and fighting and endless thoughts of despair that were needed to show the internal battle both men were fighting. However, without seeing their earlier relationship, it was much harder to connect to them moving forward in a romantic relationship. Their present-day relationship relied so heavily on their past and the love they once had for each other, but we were never shown that intense connection. Also, Oakland’s wife came across to me as more of a prop to be walked over as she was so agreeable—too agreeable. While it was great that she wasn’t portrayed as the vindictive ex, for all that Oakland put her through, she was too passive.
The feelings Oakland and Jameson carried for themselves clearly bled from the page, but overall, I expected this book to have more angst than it did, though obviously that’s based on personal tolerance. I appreciate that James goes in difficult directions with her books and I will always take a look at what she comes up with next.