Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Tenth Circle


The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult

I read this in a day (as I did with Mercy), but stayed up the entire night and part of the morning to do so. Like Mercy, The Tenth Circle is too steamy for my tastes but so well written that I couldn't put it down.

What a combination Picoulti has put into this tale! Trixie's mom is a university professor who, among other things, teaches a course on Dante's Inferno. That grabbed my attention because I recently bought a beautiful edition of Dante's Divine Comedy (of which Inferno is a part) with pen and ink illustrations by Gustav Doré. I haven't read Divine Comedy yet, but I plan to. Apparently, Dante describes nine levels or circles of hell but Trixie's dad has discovered there is yet another--the tenth circle.

Trixie's dad is a comic book artist, so Picoult (through Dustin Weaver) adds several graphic novel pages before each chapter, weaving the plot of her story with Dante's to create the comic book drama. This idea appealled to me because of my son Erik's interest in graphic novels and his ability to draw.

The story not only travels to hell and back, but also from Maine to Alaska and gives such a good description of winter life in the north I have to wonder if the author has been there. I don't live in Alaska, but Winnipeg's winters can be as cold, so I felt a camaraderie with that part of the book.
As Trixie followed Jen out of the Long House, winter smacked her with an open hand. It wasn't just cold, the way it got in Main in December. It was bone-deep cold, the kind that wrapped around your spine and turned your breath into tiny crystals, the kind that matted your eyelashes together with ice. Snow was piled on both sides of the walkway, and snow machines were parked at right angles in between a few rusted trucks.
In another place (that I couldn't find when I went looking for it), Picoult explains that it is so cold you can throw a cup of water into the air and the water will shower down as ice. We've done that from our front door when it's minus 40 outside and it's very cool to watch--I'm easily amused.

Picoult's books seem to focus in contemporary issues. In The Tenth Circle, the issues are not only rape, drugs, self-injury and suicide but of fidelity, trust, responsibility and hatred. Trixie says she's been raped by her ex-boyfriend. Was she? Is it rape if a girl is "coming on to" all the guys all evening? If she's too drugged to say no to sex, can it be assumed her answer is yes? How does a girl deal with betrayal? What do parents do when to leave their child alone is to risk her bleeding to death in the bathroom? Can one remove all instruments of self injury to protect a child intent on self-harm? What does a girl who has been so violated do to deal with what's happened and to process it? What does a protective, angry father do? How does a small town respond when the rapist is the local hockey hero whom everyone adores?

I underlined a few places in the book:
...we are never the people we think we are. We are the ones we pretend, with all our hearts, we can't become.
Three rules Trixie's dad learned while growing up amongst the Eskimo:
...thoughts and deeds were inextricably linked.

...individual thoughts were less important than the collective knowledge of the elders.

...words were so powerful they had the ability to change someone else's mind...even if they remained unspoken.
At one point, Trixie is speeding through the dark across unmarked snow on the back of a snowmobile when a storm comes up. She and her "driver" must stop until it blows over:
Trixie felt her eyes get damp, and that was awful, because almost immediately her lashes sealed shut again. She thought of the ladders she'd cut on her arms, the way she'd wanted to feel real pain instead of the hurt gnawed on her heart. Well, she'd gotten what she wanted, hadn't she? Her toes burned like fire; her fingers had swollen like sausages and ached. The thought of that delicate razor blade being drawn across her skin seemed, by comparison, ridiculous, a drama for someone who didn't really know what tragedy was.

Maybe it took realizing that you could die to keep you from wanting to do it.
Her mother is thinking through a lot of things, like how Trixie had suddenly and unexpectedly grown up when her parents glanced away for a moment:
It wasn't what you didn't know about the people you loved that would shock you; it was what you didn't want to admit about yourself.
So true. So very, very true.

Picoult's novels make me think. How would I behave in this situation or that? She exposes grey areas where it has been easy to believe that it's only black and white. What is real? What is true? What is honourable? What is right? They can be difficult questions and they're all things we must face at some point in our lives. Thank you, Jodi, for making me think.

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