This is only the third Jodi Picoult book I’ve read, after Salem Falls and My Sister’s Keeper, and it’s not as good as those two. That said, there are some great things about this book.
It’s not the first book to deal with themes of rape and death – I read the The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold a couple of months before and could quickly see how Picoult handles the issues better, in, it felt, a more mature way. Her characters seem more realistic, for a start, and what they go through less contrived.
Trixie (named after Beatrice in Dante’s Inferno) is 14 and in love with 17-year-old Jason Underhill, the star of Bethel’s ice hockey team. When he dumps her she is distraught, and follows her best friend Zephyr’s advice on how to make him jealous and take her back. The plan backfires when, at Zephyr’s party, Jason rapes Trixie.
Her father, Daniel Stone, is a comic book artist originally from the wilds of Alaska. As the police investigation into the incident progresses, as Jason is stunned and the town turns on Trixie as a slut and a fake, Daniel feels his violent, wild-side, long-suppressed past seek release against the reliable, responsible, doting stay-at-home dad and artist he became. He is the real main character of the book.
Trixie’s mother, Laura, is a university professor specialising in Dante’s Divine Comedies; she’s also been having an affair with a PhD student, Seth (the mother is an interesting character when taken in comparison with the mother in The Lovely Bones, who does all this after the act). Because of her self-absorption, and despite breaking up with Seth on the night of the rape but before learning of it, Laura feels incredible guilt for not being there for Trixie.
Trixie is an annoying girl, true to her age and therefore very frustrating. Unlike the girl in My Sister’s Keeper, Trixie is not a strong enough character to carry the novel. This opens the way for Daniel to take centre stage.
One of the most interesting things about this book is the comic art throughout. The parallel story that Daniel is working on shows a man called Wild Claw follow his abducted daughter, Tracy, into Hell. He thinks of himself as a beast, apt to change into gorilla, hawk, monster, at provocation. In Hell he encounters Virgil who guides him through Dantes’ nine levels, or circles. The title of the book, The Tenth Circle, is in reference to an idea Laura has that there should be a tenth level for people who lie to themselves. Daniel, and his ulter-ego WildClaw, lies to himself about his own true nature, and fears it too.
I found the Alaska sequence at the end a bit flat and the pacing slow. The novel moved along well up until Jason’s suicide-that-turns-out-to-be-murder and Trixie flees. The characters are interesting, but I couldn’t help wanting more of a town dynamic, I wanted to know more about the other people in the community and their (mostly negative) reaction to what Trixie did to Jason – that is, get him in trouble for something they never believed he did. Daniel, too, for all that I loved him as a character, was a little cliched and soap-opera-like. Laura, perhaps fittingly, gets a little left out in the cold (that’s a pun). I loved the artwork, and there’s even a puzzle to figure out when you’ve finished reading the book.
While not her best, The Tenth Circle is still very enjoyable.