Picoult (Vanishing Act, 2005, etc.) fumbles in this 13th novel of, predictably, a family in crisis.
To all outward appearances, the family Stone seems a happy trio: Mother Laura teaches Dante at the local university; her 14-year-old Trixie is popular, dating the town’s high school hockey hero Jason Underhill; and Daniel, a stay-at-home dad, has finally hit it big with the debut of his own comic book, The Tenth Circle. Inspired by his wife’s work, Daniel’s hero Duncan/Wildclaw descends into hell in search of his kidnapped daughter (sections of the comic book, illustrated by Dustin Weaver, appear at the end of each chapter). As his alter ego tours the circles of hell with Virgil, Daniel’s family begins to unravel: On the night that Trixie is raped by her boyfriend, Daniel discovers Laura has been having an affair with a student. Picoult usually infuses a bit of suspense into her dramas, and this effort is no different as Trixie’s testimony comes into question—is Trixie just out for revenge on the boyfriend who dumped her? As the DA and detective try to build a rape case, Trixie becomes ostracized at school, continues to self-mutilate and then finally attempts suicide. She’s saved in time, but soon after her recovery, Jason is found dead, and it’s beginning to look like Trixie killed him. Afraid she’ll be charged with Jason’s murder, Trixie runs away to the Alaskan Eskimo village where Daniel was raised (and tormented as the only white boy), forcing Daniel to confront his past, save his daughter, save his marriage and make everything okay in the universe, as every superhero should.
As a third-act whodunit—the culprit is an easy guess—the story fails. Picoult, who is so often an inventive and compelling storyteller, relies here on convention and sentimentality.