Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Tenth Circle

I know I am supposed to be reading The Hiding Place. But first Harry Potter distracted me and then on a whim I bought this at Sam's Club looking for a less emotional read.

But, if you've ever read Jodi Piccoult, she is all about the emotional. In fact, this being the third book I've read of hers, I'm beginning to think she's overly emotional.

The Tenth Circle is cleverly written. The main narrator is Daniel Stone, a comic book writer and artist who is working on a new series based on his life and his wife's life study of Dante's Inferno. In Dante's Inferno, there are nine circles of hell. In this story, and in the comic book pages that begins each chapter as a parallel story to Daniel's real life, the hero (or heroes) discover that there is actually a tenth circle of hell. I'll let you discover what the tenth circle is if you are so inclined to read this.

The book is well written and the characters adequately developed. Daniel is a reformed troubled youth with a mysterious history he doesn't talk about with his wife and daughter, who completely turned his life around to be a stay-at-home father to Trixie. His fatherhood is his alter ego. His wife fell in love with the bad boy and then gets bored after years of his cleaned-up act and has an affair with one of her students taking her Dante class. And Trixie, their teenage daughter, somehow becomes one messed up chica over a boy who breaks up with her.

The story lost me with all three character's extreme behavior. It just wasn't believable. Trixie is date raped by her ex-boyfriend. This part of the story was unbelievably real and I thought had the makings of a great, complicated debate on teenage sex. But the author didn't follow through. Her absolute defense of Trixie (who didn't want to have sex, but didn't say no because she was drunk and high but she tried to push him off - he didn't get the message because he was drunk and high and used to having sex with her because they had been active for several months beforehand) of accusing her ex-boyfriend of rape and the rage and upset it cost him, their friends, his family, the school, the community and ultimately her own family, was never questioned.

I thought a more appropriate argument could be made for the emotional and psychological repercussions of teenage sex. It's not just that they can, or do, but if they should. Trixie, a fourteen year old who become obsessed by her "love" for her first boyfriend, becomes almost suicidal after their break-up. She makes really poor decisions afterwards, including dressing provocatively in an effort to win him back, and some dangerous, reckless behavior at a party that ultimately broke her. Her parents made equally bad decisions in their handling of their daughter before and after. But again, that wasn't really Piccoult's point. Ultimately, she didn't really have one except that Trixie's father would go to whatever depths of hell to avenge his daughter. Kind of over-the-top, I think. I'm not belittling the devastating effects of date-rape. But the line was so, so blurry here, that there had to be a discussion of that very line. I think Piccoult got caught up in her clever idea of weaving in a comic strip and her Dante angle and missed the bigger picture.

She's done it before. I enjoyed My Sister's Keeper but thought Vanishing Acts missed the point by a long shot. It's as if she does all of this research (sister's keeper is about Genetic tampering and Vanishing Acts is about the prison system) and writes the research no matter where the story takes her. She worked it out with My Sister's Keeper but didn't do justice for Dante, comic books or the paramount subject of date-rape in this story.

It's a shame because she's a good writer. But, I'm ready for her to write about something other than a teenage girl's drama.

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