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The Tenth CircleReview - The Tenth Circle
A Novel
by Jodi Picoult
Washington Square Press, 2006
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Jan 2nd 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 1)

The Tenth Circle is packed with different themes and references.† Trixie Stone is fourteen years old, and her hockey-star boyfriend Jason broke up with her recently.† She has been devastated, and she desperately wants to get him back.† So she and her best friend Zephyr hold a party; their plan is for Trixie to make Jason jealous so he will want her back.† But their plans go awry and in the middle of the night, Trixie goes home and tells her father Daniel that Jason raped her.† They go to the hospital where she is assigned a sexual assault advocate to accompany her through the examination.† The police come to interview Trixie, and their investigation starts.† Trixie is ostracized at school, since everyone thinks that she has made up her story.† She was already engaging in some self-cutting before this all started, and now her self-destructiveness gets worse.

Part of the problem is that Trixie's parents were pre-occupied with other worries over the preceding months.† Her mother Laura, a university professor, was having an affair with one of her graduate students, and on the night of the rape, she was not even at home and she was not answering her cell phone.† Her father Daniel knew about the affair, but had not confronted Laura about it.† He was also focusing on his own work as a comic book artist: after many years of struggle, he was at last starting to have some success.† So both of them were blind to the difficulties that Trixie was going through before her rape, and they didn't even know that Jason had broken up with her.

By addressing issues of teen sexuality and date rape, Picoult faces hot-button topics that get plenty of press attention.† Trixie and Zephyr decide to play "Rainbow" at their party, and they also plan to play "Stoneface," "Daisy Chain," and they end up playing strip poker.† They get drugs and alcohol.† So it is no surprise that this all leads to trouble.† But the question is whether Jason should be punished for what ends up happening, and Picoult avoids that question by piling on more drama in the plot.

In flashbacks, we learn about Daniel's childhood growing up as the only white boy on an Alaskan Eskimo village of Yup'ik people.† He too suffered teasing and ostracism for his difference, making him socially isolated, and he left when he was a teenager, moving to Maine and making a living for himself as a street artist.† Yet he also came to appreciate the Yup'ik legends and ways of dealing with difficulty.† As Picoult repeatedly returns to this part of Daniel's life and the mystery he has made of it, it becomes a narrative inevitability that they characters will end up in Alaska.† Indeed, doing away with any semblance of plausibility in plot, the whole family goes to the city of Daniel's youth, learning not only more about his past, but about the wisdom of the native culture.† Despite its problems of alcoholism and poverty, this culture serves as a counterbalance in the novel to the rushed disconnection of life in modern small-town Maine.

As if all this were not enough, Picoult ties all these themes together with Dante's Inferno from his poem The Divine Comedy.† Laura's main teaching is about Dante; Daniel's comic book is The Tenth Circle, and the whole novel explores the different sins people commit and the consequences that follow.† At the start of each chapter, we get an excerpt from Daniel's work (actually drawn by comic book artist Dustin Weaver), featuring his hero Wildclaw, a middle-aged man who can turn into various wild animals.† His teenage daughter is taken by Satan into Hell, and Wildclaw has to follow him through all the different levels to rescue her.† In Dante's Inferno, there were just nine levels of Hell, so the idea of the Tenth Circle is that it includes a sin Dante didn't include -- self-deception.† It is for people who refuse to face who they really are.† It's never clear why this is the most terrible sin of all, worse than murder and rape.†

Picoult is a prolific author, writing about a book a year.† The Tenth Circle is crowded with ideas that are never fully worked out, and that seem to be there more for effect than to make a strong point.† The same is true of her earlier novel My Sister's Keeper (reviewed in Metapsychology 8:46), which is now being turned into a Hollywood movie.† The plot moves fast, verging on melodrama and sensationalism.† Since her novels get into the bestsellers lists, her style clearly works well for many readers.† Yet judging from the readers' comments at Amazon.com, many will find her work unsatisfying.†

The unabridged audiobook is performed by Carol Monda.† It is a strong reading, that keeps the different characters separate yet being muted enough to play down the melodramatic elements.† This audio version lacks the comic book part that precede each chapter, and this may also help to tone down the silliness of the plot, thus making it more appealing.†

 

 

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© 2007 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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