Comic Strip Manifests Troubles

By Lauren Deards

BOOK REVIEW

The work of author Jodi Picoult has been making the rounds in
book clubs and social circles over the last few years.

In 2004’s “My Sister’s Keeper,” possibly her best known and most
successful work, she wrote about a family going through an
extremely difficult situation involving a daughter’s choice to stop
donating organs and blood to her sister, who has leukemia. Picoult
analyzed family relationships, and how our actions and choices can
affect those around us.

In “The Tenth Circle,” published in March 2006, she performs a
similar feat with brilliant results.

The writing itself is well done. Picoult handles heavy material
with a touch light enough to keep it from weighing the reader down.
Numerous plot twists and the blending of two genres – novel and
comic book – help to make for a compelling and ultimately
satisfying story.

The characters are complex and perfectly flawed. The dialogue is
convincingly realistic, and the novel is engaging, exciting and
well crafted, overall. Although it is not a particularly cheerful
story, it stops short enough of being thoroughly depressing to be
deemed a worthwhile read in every way.

The story centers around the three members of the Stone family,
which consists of Laura, a Dante scholar and popular university
professor, Daniel, a comic artist and stay-at-home dad, and
14-year-old Trixie, a high school freshman.

Each is experiencing a personal crisis. The ways that they
handle these problems individually and the impact that they have on
them as a family comprise the main theme of the novel, which is
common in Picoult’s work. Each of them is, in their own way,
learning something new and possibly terrifying about themselves,
and all three are making surprising discoveries about each
other.

Trixie is growing up and seems to be growing away from her
parents, which leads to trouble when she is raped by Jason, her
ex-boyfriend and the star of the high school hockey team. She and
her family are shocked when their small community and even the
investigator assigned to the case doubt Trixie’s story, wondering
if she is lying in order to get attention and get back at
Jason.

Through her story, Picoult develops a particularly dark theme of
the novel, which is that of the secret lives of teenagers. The
reader follows Trixie into a realm of teen rebellion, in which kids
tell lies, party, cut themselves and record their sexual conquests
by means of paper clip chains. This particular theme may be a bit
overdone on Picoult’s part, but is written in a way that is both
horrifying and riveting. This is the world that we find ourselves
wanting Daniel and Laura to help Trixie escape.

The novel’s other main storyline is that of Daniel and Laura,
whose marriage has been threatened by Laura’s infidelity. Daniel
finds out that his daughter has been raped and his wife has been
cheating on him in the same night, and when both women in his
family fall apart emotionally, he feels the responsibility of
keeping himself together, despite his feelings of fear, anger and
betrayal.

He mainly takes his emotions out in his comic, a series that
shares the name of the novel.

Daniel combines his wife’s knowledge of Dante’s nine circles of
Hell and his daughter’s dangerous situation, channeling them into
the composition of his comic series.

His superhero is Wildclaw, actually a middle-aged man who delves
into the depths of the Underworld in an effort to rescue his
daughter. This hero has the ability to morph into an animal in
order to fend off his enemies, with one notable catch: With each
transformation, he finds himself becoming less human. Over the
course of the novel, we see Daniel transform in a similar way,
struggling to resist a reversion back to his mysterious “other
self,” the Daniel of his youth.

It is the device of the comic that provides one of the novel’s
most unique elements. The book is peppered with comic book pages,
allowing the reader to see how Daniel’s story progresses and
changes with the goings-on in his personal life.

Because he tries so hard to suppress his more passionate
emotions, it is through the comics that Picoult allows us to see
how he really feels. He would like nothing more than to go straight
into the hell that is Trixie’s life post-rape and pull her out
unscathed, and he shows this clearly through Wildclaw.

He and his family take Dante’s vision of hell a step further
through the incorporation of their own problems, discovering a
t10th circle, in which those who lie to themselves must face who
they truly are.

This proves to be the ultimate challenge for Laura, Daniel and
Trixie, each of whom is fighting to ignore a part of themselves. As
they are forced to deal with their issues for the sake of their
family, Picoult reveals the truth behind Daniel’s past, Laura’s
infidelity, and what happened the night that Trixie was raped.

An especially observant reader can discover what Picoult
considers to be the main theme of the novel within the pages of
Daniel’s comic book. There are letters hidden in the frames of
Wildclaw’s story which, when discovered in order, can be combined
to spell out a quotation that Picoult believes to be important to
the reader’s understanding of her novel’s themes.

Once a reader believes that they have solved this puzzle, they
can visit Picoult’s Web site to check their answer. However, the
Web site will not simply give the quote away – the inquiring
visitor must have an accurate guess.

Lauren Deards can be reached by e-mail at arts@thepolypost.com
or by phone at (909) 869-3744.

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