From: Michael Robison ( miker_zspider@yahoo.com)
Date: 11 Nov 2003

This is the first book I've read by Tosches.

Like Michener's THE SOURCE, Tosches's IN THE HAND OF DANTE alternates between two stories, one modern and one ancient. The ancient one follows Dante's struggle to write his DIVINE COMEDY, and the contemporary story involves the discovery, theft, and sale of the original manuscript. Tosches juxtaposes the twin plots in an unholy marriage of purgatory and paradise, heaven and hell, wise guys and wise men.

The Dante section has softened edges and moves in a slow and elaborate waltz. It evokes the gentle light of a fading day, lives devoted to bittersweet philosophical and religious meditation. There is a remoteness to the Dante characters that seems appropriate, given the centuries past. For my tastes, the style is a bit too verbose and florid. It is an elegant and beautiful story, but it tended to sag under the weight of the narrative.

The modern plot, for the most part told in a terse hardboiled manner, was more to my liking. The characters are delightfully evil and self-serving, the imagery is vivid, and the violence comes hard and fast. In typical Hunter Thompson fashion, the characters heap irreverence upon all things dear to Western culture. Multiple invectives are directed at the Catholic Church, with specific slurs aimed at each member of the Trinity. The 911 attack is met with sneering jokes. The Kennedy assassination is belittled. Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey take heat.

Tosches is a talented writer. He is a master at setting a scene and evoking a mood from it, and his contrast between the two plots is successful. The novel is not conventional, so it's questionable whether conventional criticism applies. Nevertheless, the book appears to suffer from excesses and a lack of self-discipline. In particular, a long harangue against the publishing industry from one of the characters is of questionable value. Is Tosches merely portraying a character's obsession, or is it egotistical self-indulgence.


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