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IN THE HAND OF DANTE by Nick Tosches


by Nick Tosches

Pub Date: Sept. 4th, 2002
ISBN: 0-316-89524-5
Publisher: Little, Brown

From cultural critic and occasional novelist Tosches (Where Dead Voices Gather, 2001, etc.), a personal Commedia of errors that may not be the book of the millennium he aims for.

The plot turns on the original handwritten manuscript of The Divine Comedy, which has turned up in a secret room under the Vatican. A New York gangster has a shot at grabbing it, so who does he call to authenticate the pages? A “fictional” Nick Tosches, who coincidentally has published all the same books as the real Nick Tosches. Nick’s a shady figure with ties to the mob and a love of blackjack, but he also happens to have been obsessed with Dante for many years. Meantime, the story of the discovered manuscript is compelling, if often offensively vulgar, and the interplay between its thrill ride and a narrative history of Dante’s life makes for fascinating rhetoric. But the part of the novel everyone in the book industry has been waiting to read is the long rant against the publishing industry. About a quarter of the way in, Tosches makes an abrupt turn to lament the half-dozen conglomerates that have taken over (including his own publisher) and spends a few pages laying into senior editors (including his own). Is he really surprised by the sorry state of the book-business? Granted that he’s right (he is), then how is it that In the Hand of Dante, which he assures us no one will understand, has been published? None of this has anything to do with the Dante manuscript, and it’s disheartening to watch the same intelligence that produces “You would today be hard-pressed to find a senior editor in New York who had heard of Eliot’s The Sacred Wood, let alone read it” also descend to the lameness of “Fuck him. Fuck her. Fuck the other guy. Fuck you, whoever you are. Fuck you all.”

Tosches would have us believe that he is Orson Welles, writing badly for dough and well for posterity. But Little, Brown promises only that it will be “the most talked-about book of the decade.” No wonder he’s pissed.