Jodi Picoult --- here's a name almost guaranteed to make booksellers drool. She's an award-winning, bestselling author and a book clubber's dream: each of her twelve novels is meaty, engrossing, and tackles interesting situations or morally complex conundrums with enough twists and turns to keep the most jaded reader engrossed. And if all this weren't enough, she's profitably prolific as well: she cranks out a new book every year, like clockwork. She's also a very attractive woman who's charming and engaging, a publicists' dream, and every new book sets the Simon & Schuster marketing machines on full-throttle. Picoult is quite the tour de force.
But none of this surprises me.
What surprises me, quite frankly, is that Picoult manages all of this --- the book tours, the marketing, and the cranking out of new titles every nine months --- and somehow, some way, she keeps each one feeling as fresh, complex and totally absorbing as the last. And in THE TENTH CIRCLE, Picoult takes it all one step further. She manages to open up a whole new way of telling her story.
THE TENTH CIRCLE tells the story of Daniel Stone, a successful graphic artist grappling with the fact that his beloved daughter, Trixie, is becoming a teenager. Daniel grew up as the only white boy in an Alaskan Inuit village, a troubled childhood that led to a rebellious and very angry adolescence that he fought hard to escape. Reinventing himself years later as a work-at-home dad devoted to his only daughter, he's trying to improve a troubled marriage to his wife Laura, a Classics scholar, and is working on a graphic novel where his hero --- a father --- travels through Dante's Inferno to save his daughter, quite literally, from Hell. When Trixie comes home one night and tells her father that she was date raped at a party, the life he's created for himself slowly begins to come apart at the seams.
This latest offering is, in classic Picoult manner, about a lot of things. It's a story that asks whether or not it's actually possible to reinvent yourself and whether or not we ever truly lose the people we once were. It's a story about what attracts and repels us in others. And ultimately, it's a story about the bonds between parents and children. Fans of Picoult's other books will recognize her trademark shifts in narrative voice and the changing landscapes --- in this case, traveling from Maine High School to the Alaskan tundra --- that are hallmarks of her work. But Picoult takes her narrative voice a step further in THE TENTH CIRCLE by incorporating comic book art --- skillfully drawn by artist Dustin Weaver --- as glimpses into the graphic art of Daniel Stone. In the wrong hands this "story-within-a-story" would be either cloying or heavy-handed, but it completely works in this novel: Picoult's touch is light and the art serves to provide yet another layer into Daniel's psyche.
THE TENTH CIRCLE manages to remain vintage Picoult while demonstrating the author's clear development as a writer --- her novel proves that she's willing to take chances, not only through the incorporation of graphic novel elements, but through her unique way of tackling resolutions. Strip away all of the marketing and publicist trappings behind this author's name, and what you'll find is a well-crafted novel and a smart writer who's not afraid to try something different and go out on a limb.
Come to think of it, maybe that's the most surprising thing about Jodi Picoult.
Reviewed by Lourdes Orive on January 23, 2011
The Tenth Circle