Laura Stone knows exactly how to go to hell.
But she didn’t have to; she was already there.
The Tenth Circle is Jodi Picoult’s 13th book. And by the track record of her masterpieces, this one isn’t exactly the best. I have a bone to pick with TTC, but I also have to admire Jodi Picoult on her courage for even daring to write something so out of the border. But before we get down to that, let’s lay down some back story. And then we’ll be nit-picking around the gates of inferno later. Ergo, some minor plot spoilers! (Not saying much, but if you’d like to, scroll down to the Spoiler Free area.)
Characters. In this book, we have a seemingly typical family, Daniel Stone (comic artist) and Laura Stone (lecturer at the college), living in Bethel, Maine with their daughter Trixie. She has a wildly bad influence of a best friend, the type parents thought could be trusted since the two girls have been friends since practically forever. Trixie and Zepher are 15, freshmen in High School. Trixie just recently broke up with Jason, a junior in the same school and a well-loved hockey star within the community.
So what’s the big deal? Seems so ordinary. Zepher, being the good friend, throws a house party while her parents are away, and helps Trixie act like a proper slut I mean get Jason back and make him want her. She ends up getting raped by Jason, and now we’re all mixed in an entire back-and-forth chase alongside the trusty DA and his pet pig. Along the way we find out that their mother cheated with a man who apparently sells drugs, and gave a date-rape drug to some kids who went to Zepher’s party. At some point, Jason falls off a bridge. People thought it was suicide, and you’ll go through the story trying to find out who really pushed him off. Trixie, being one of the accused, runs off to Alaska where her father grew up.
Anyway, what I do know of Jodi Picoult’s work is that (a) she likes telling stories about families, and they may or may not include (b) court cases with children/teens involved, (c) with the attorney/lawyer having a fairly delicious back story of his own that connects well with the main issue of the family. And (d) the most important thing I know about Picoult is that she is a good storyteller with fast paced style and a voice or language that just seems so natural. It seems consistent in her style however that (e) she likes shifting points of view from person to person. In the case of TTC, frame to frame, as if the reader were watching a movie, or looking over the characters through a camera, with the film already edited, and it just cuts the scenes and jumps to the next when necessary.
Picoult loves a good family story. And though her topics aren’t exactly child friendly, the way she portrays the relationship of a father and a daughter, or the husband and wife, the working mother and the family she never got to take care of—those feelings were clear. Daniel Stone threw away every part of who he was, and every single strand of his normalcy, the life he wanted now, was embedded into the DNA of his daughter. And that was very clear with how much he would give for her safety. This was beyond just simple sense of fatherhood trying to protect one’s own flesh and blood. This went to the fact that Trixie Stone was what Daniel’s humanity fixated itself to.
So what did I dislike? The thing is, we know Jodi Picoult for a natural read. She makes story telling so effortless that it really does feel as if all the characters are alive right now, somewhere in the world, and everything is happening around you. The Tenth Circle doesn’t feel that way at all. In this novel, we see Picoult trying a little too hard to sound creative. She uses elements in Dante’s Inferno, which she admits she herself doesn’t like. And she makes use of comics, which she also admits she knows nothing of. And then she takes us all to Alaska, and uses their beliefs and culture to mold the backstory for Daniel Stone.
I’m certain we all love the fact that Picoult is trying to go beyond boundaries and explore new things for the sake of creative writing. She went to Alaska just to research on it. She hired a friend to do the comics. She did everything. But it was all too much and it’s starting to not make sense at all. All that this novel does to you is make you miss the naturally creative Jodi Picoult you knew and loved.
The good thing about it is that Picoult never wasted her research. None of those elements were unnecessary. It was Daniel’s comic that makes you understand what his character was like. And it was through the journey down to Inferno that makes you understand how those three connect as a family. Picoult opens your eyes to
“It’s a process of give and take.”
How Daniel Stone used to be a rebellious street artist who ran from a murder, fell in love and is now the softest, kindest, most level-headed father; how Laura used to be boxed in what was perceived as correct and proper, and now–how they both changed in that marriage, because of that marriage. It’s something people don’t realize that Picoult managed to point out. Love isn’t about what you get to have or what you give or do for someone else. It’s about what you share. I always tell people that love is a verb, not a noun. And the noun is only based on the verb. It’s an act, not a concept. And that act is sharing–sharing everything that you are.
There are plenty of others, but I wouldn’t spoil you any further. The Tenth Circle is not Picoult’s best, if not her personal creative plummeting down to her literary tenth circle. Regardless, even when Picoult forgets how to perfectly tell a seamless story, she never forgets how to teach a reader something new.* The cover of the book is interesting by the way. Don’t judge the book by its cover; judge the cover by its plot. Also, Daniel Stone likes to hide letters in things he draws. Through the book, there are parts of his comic; I suggest you take a good look at all of them before you move on.