The Tenth Circle Summary

Jodi Picoult

The Tenth Circle

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The Tenth Circle Summary

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Jodi Picoult’s novel The Tenth Circle (2006) has date rape as a central plot and delves into the facets of father/daughter relationships. There are symbolic references to Dante’s The Divine Comedy, in particular, the “Inferno” section. The title of the book comes from the first canticle of The Divine Comedy. In a unique literary structure, the novel’s plot and subplot are shown in juxtaposition via a comic, The Tenth Circle by the character Daniel with the comic representing Daniel’s life. Daniel’s daughter, Trixie Stone, is a high school freshman. Trixie accuses Jason Underhill, her ex-boyfriend, of raping her. Most take Jason’s side, who claims that their encounter was consensual. Daniel and Trixie’s mother, Laura, become involved in unraveling the events that follow. While Daniel is a comic book artist who comes from a difficult background, Laura is a college professor romantically involved with one of her students. Jason falls from a bridge and, while it is at first viewed as a suicide, it later is thought that Trixie may have pushed him. Trixie runs to Alaska where Daniel grew up, sending Daniel and Laura on a quest to find her.

At the start of the story, Jason and Trixie have just broken up, and she is despondent. She tells him that she cannot imagine going on without him, but he is firm in insisting that the relationship is over. Trixie’s friend Zephyr encourages Trixie to take steps to make Jason jealous in order to win him back. In an attempt to help her, Zephyr throws a party where there will be no adult supervision. Sex games are being played, and although Trixie attempts to participate, ultimately she cannot bring herself to do so. Following the party, Trixie and Jason, along with Zephyr and Moss, a friend of Jason’s, are still at the house. They play a game of strip poker, and after a while, Zephyr and Moss go to a bedroom. After some time goes by, Jason finds Trixie in a bathroom where they hold each other and eventually have sex.

Upon returning to her home, Trixie locks herself in the bathroom crying. When Daniel discovers her and asks what is going on, she tells him that Jason raped her. He immediately takes her to an emergency room. He calls Laura but does not hear back from her for many hours. Finally, she calls him and arrives at the hospital. Laura had been spending the evening with Seth, the student with whom she has been having an affair. She had informed him that she was ending the affair with him. Because Jason is a well-known hockey player in the town, Trixie’s rape allegation becomes news that makes the newspapers. This leads to Trixie being harassed by the other students at her school and feeling uncomfortable with the attention the situation is receiving.

Laura and Daniel, meanwhile, are working to mend their marriage as he tries to deal with her affair. Some background information is offered about Daniel having been born and grown up in Alaska, facing ridicule from his peers due to his being half white. Daniel’s best friend during that period of his life committed suicide and Daniel was blamed for it. It was later determined that he was not responsible, but after that, he left Alaska and has not since returned there. Trixie’s credibility comes under scrutiny; many think she fabricated her story to seek revenge on Jason for having broken up with her. Jason says they had sex long before the party, while Trixie says she was a virgin until that evening. It is, however, proven that Trixie was raped, and the charges are increased against Jason.

Daniel threatens to kill Jason, and when Jason is found dead, it seems possible that he went through with it. Trixie’s hair is found stuck in Jason’s watchband, leading to attention being turned to her as well. Laura, it turns out, accidentally caused his death, which she confesses to Daniel. A drunken Jason had gone after Laura, thinking that she was Trixie. Laura pushed him from a bridge. She tried to hold on to him, but he let go of her hand. The final chapter of Daniel’s comic shows a family brought back together after the father saves his daughter from hell.

Although expressing some concerns about the role of the illustrations as they collaborate with the text, Publishers Weekly offers praise for Picoult’s The Tenth Circle, “Some of Picoult’s best storytelling distinguishes her twisting, metaphor-rich thirteenth novel about parental vigilance gone haywire, inner demons, and the emotional risks of relationships…Picoult has collaborated with graphic artist Dustin Weaver to illustrate her deft, complex exploration of Daniel and his beast within, but the drawings, though well done, distract from the powerful picture she has drawn with words. Laura and Daniel follow their runaway daughter to Alaska, at which point Picoult drives the story with the heavy-handed Dante metaphor—not the characters. Still, this story of a flawed family on the brink of destruction grips from start to finish.”