Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Tenth Circle - Review

I've been trying to step out of solely reading genre titles lately (namely fantasy and science fiction), and my sister suggested Jodi Picoult's The Tenth Circle to me, knowing that a certain aspect of it would definitely appeal to me: its comic book-ness. Yeah, not a real term. Please file your complaint elsewhere if it bothers you. But what does it mean, you ask? Well, one of the main characters in The Tenth Circle is Daniel Stone, a comic book artist that works for the bigwigs in the business, and placed at the end of each chapter are a few pages from his latest work, a work that both mirrors the story's plot while conveying its own journey through the many circles of Hell.

First, I'll admit that I've always been intrigued by the mythology (er, probably not the best way to categorize something so epic) of Dante's Inferno. So I was curious to see the how it was going to be used in The Tenth Circle.

Simply put, this is the story of a breaking family. There's Daniel Stone, previously mentioned above, who's childhood of being the only white boy in an Eskimo village twisted him into a spiteful youth that robbed and cheated his way to freedom. His wife, Laura, teaches about Dante's Inferno at the local college while knowingly ruining her marriage with a boy half her age. Lastly, we have Trixie Stone, a teenage girl doing teenage things and thinking teenage thoughts. You know, how love is eternal and true, how the world isn't fair, how getting revenge against the boy that broke her heart might be a good thing. Unfortunately, it isn't. A horrible act of violence toward her sends her family into the blender, and as murder and rape are the headlining topics soon whispered throughout their usually quiet town, a family fights to understand one another, and possibly to save one another.

Suspense and plot-twists galore, The Tenth Circle's most appealing aspect are its characters: rage-aholic Daniel, conflicted Laura, angst-laden Trixie, the charming and sometimes seemingly innocent ex-boyfriend Jason, the detective who lost his daughter to drugs, even Wildclaw, the desperate superhero born from Daniel's imagination. These characters are beyond flawed, and yet, completely likeable. The reader feels for Trixie after what happens to her, the reader feels for Jason who is supposedly to blame, the reader feels for Daniel and Laura, a married couple that must put aside their own selfish problems to protect their child from further harm.

I did have some problems with The Tenth Circle. Some parts really asked me to stretch--emotionally, in most cases--as young Trixie manages to run away from Bethel, Maine to Bethel, Alaska with little trouble, and Laura's big reveal in the end felt rather...forced. Or, rather, out of character. Either way, everything leading up to it is marvelous, complicated, and interesting. Some of what happens seems too convenient, but often it isn't; it's just how these characters react and how their stories unfold.

Picoult doesn't just use rape and teen suicide as mere plot devices. She slaps them down on the lab table, cuts them open, sees how they work, gets right into them as far as humanly possible. It's by doing this that she gains such insight, whether it's Trixie understanding that people aren't born pretty or Daniel learning where all his hate and rage hid when no one's around. The Tenth Circle could've easily fallen on its face with too much preaching or This Act of Violence is Bad Bad Bad, but Picoult handles the book's themes much more quietly.

Plus, you know, I've got a soft spot for comic book superheroes. Wildclaw is the name of Daniel Stone's gifted/cursed alterego. The art in The Tenth Circle is done by Dustin Weaver, and it can be read all on its own for an engaging story of Wildclaw's trek through Hell to get back his daughter. Hidden within the artwork, a secret message reveals a message from Jodi Picoult on the book's theme.

So, overall, good stuff. Thanks to my sister again, I now have Picoult's Salem Falls on my desk to devour next. Mmm witchcraft...


Anonymous said...

You're very welcome. Watch out you might become addicted to Picoult. I looking forward to reading Nineteen Minutes. -D

Trish said...

I just finished this book, and like you, found it a little forced at times. Not my favorite Picoult book. One thing I like about her, though, is her ability to discuss the messiness of things that could be black and white. If you want more, I would recommend The Pact and My Sister's Keeper. 19 Minutes was good, but not as great as the other two mentioned.


Paul Abbamondi said...

Thanks for the comment, Trish!

Picoult definitely has a way of writing through the messiness that is a broken (or breaking) family. 19 Minutes sounds interesting as well. Haven't gotten to Salem Falls yet but I'm looking forward to it.