In the Hand of Dante: A Novel

In the Hand of Dante: A Novel

3.6 10
by Nick Tosches

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Now in paperback—the Tosches masterpiece—a life-or-death thriller based on the life of Dante and a thief named Nick Tosches.See more details below


Now in paperback—the Tosches masterpiece—a life-or-death thriller based on the life of Dante and a thief named Nick Tosches.

Editorial Reviews

Entertainment Weekly
...the most audacious thing about this is the author's furious delivery of rare aesthetic bliss...A.
San Francisco Chronicle
...a great, glorious mess of a novel that happily breaks every rule it can...
San Diego Union Tribune
...razor sharp insights...this novel's true wisdom lies in its poetry...
James Sullivan
Tosches is one of the more intoxicating, infuriating writers around. A specialist in the seamy side of popular music—he has written thrilling biographies of Jerry Lee Lewis (Hellfire) and Dean Martin (Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams)—the author is also a lyrical chronicler of Mafia culture and a formidable scholar of the classics. In this novel he combines those wildly divergent interests with a bit of apparent memoir about his battles with diabetes, alcohol and writing. The improbable result involves a quest to authenticate stolen pages of Dante's original manuscript, an extended rant about the state of contemporary publishing and (as always with Tosches) some gleeful brutality. The writing, when it's not impenetrable, is often gorgeous.
Publishers Weekly
Deftly blending the sacred and the profane, Tosches boldly casts himself as the protagonist in his latest novel, an outrageously ambitious book in which he procures a purloined version of the original manuscript of The Divine Comedy while tracing Dante's journey as Dante struggled to complete his penultimate work. The initial chapters find Tosches looking back and questioning the results of his fascinating life and career, with a brief but devastating aside about the decline of publishing. But Tosches suddenly emerges from his morbid nostalgia when a former character named Louie (a gangster from Tosches's Cut Numbers) gets his hands on a stolen copy of Dante's manuscript and asks Tosches to authenticate it. That sends the author on a whirlwind tour to Arizona, Chicago, Paris and then London as he tries to verify the work and then determine its worth on the open market. The subplot involving Dante's journey is flat and stale by comparison, despite some impeccable scholarship by Tosches as he chronicles the great poet's efforts and setbacks. Tosches's sense of the shock value of his story line doesn't waver, and there's never a dull moment as he opines about modern culture, the Mob, the Oprah Book Club, Zen editing and the joy of being edited, September 11, the artistic process and anything else that happens to hop into his head for a few pages. The ending is a bit of a letdown, but fans of the one-man literary show that is Nick Tosches will doubtless love this book. Overall, it remains incomplete as a novel because of Tosches's inability to bring Dante to life as a character, although the author's admiration for him as a creative force results in a number of compelling passages. (Sept. 4) Forecast: This attention-grabbing novel should create its own buzz, but Little, Brown is gilding the lily with a 75,000 first printing, national ad campaign, Web marketing and a five-city author tour. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Dante's original manuscript for The Divine Comedy is the catalyst for Tosches's schizophrenic yet at times brilliant novel, synthesizing history and biography with contemporary murder and mayhem to create an exotic meal of a book, albeit one for strong stomachs. The book alternates between two different worlds: 14th-century Italy, where Dante Alighieri searches for the perfect inspiration to complete his masterwork, and 21st-century New York, where murderous thugs seek to profit from the recently unearthed manuscript, thought to be lost to the ages. Enter Tosches, a student of Dante's work and a go-between for the mob; his quest to authenticate the book takes a turn that his conspirators can't predict, and he has plans of his own for the tome. What makes the novel special is Tosches himself, who examines his own life, weary philosophy, and creative inspiration in his usual in-your-face style. In one fascinating aside, the author rants about monopolistic publishing houses, effectively biting the hand that feeds him. As with any Tosches book, a reader's willingness to embrace the dark side and all that it entails is essential. However, behind the grunge lies a fascinating study of the power of writing and the relative value applied to it. The fact that the cynical Tosches doesn't provide easy answers only adds more provocation. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/02.]-Marc Kloszewski, Indiana Free Lib., PA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Back Bay Paperback Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.00(d)

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In the Hand of Dante

By Nick Tosches

Time Warner

Nick Tosches, Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-316-73564-7

Chapter One


There was residue on his hands. He hated that. He held forth his
hand to the one bitch who ws still on her knees. She closed her eyes
and licked the scum from his hand. As he stood over her, he could
smell her hair, which had the same dirty cloying stench of that
coconut-oil shit those fucking Haile Selassie cabbies used inside
their taxis. And he could feel the sticky grease of whatever cheap
shit she wore on her lips. He withdrew his hand from her.

Downstairs, on West Twenty-sixth Street, he stood awhile in the
night. It was the dead of August, that time in New York when the
daylight sky was an oppressive lowlying glare of white, and the dark
of night was a haze of starless ashen pallor. Louie felt at one with
it. He lighted a cigarette and drew smoke. It was late. But not for

Humidity and his own sweat began to gather on his skin. He looked at
the moist glistening amid the hair of his bare forearm. He looked
longer at the hand that held the cigarette. He didn't know which was
worse, the traces of his own detested bodily fluid or the slime of
that bitch's tongue. This would clean him, he told himself, feeling
the gathering of humidity and sweat increase. All he needed now was
a good breeze from the river. That would be nice. He began to walk.
He had not tucked his shirt into his trousers, and he had not
buttoned his shirt, and he did not do these things now. He carried
his jacket of fine, fine cotton and fine, fine silk, the one that he
had paid two grand for in Milano. It had been made for him, by
whatever the fuck his name was. It was the color of the deep
blue-green sea, and was almost weightless; but as he carried it, he
could feel the sag of weight in one pocket.

It was his favorite jacket. It was like wearing nothing, and you
could wear it with anything, and only a guy with class would see it
for what it was. And it was the color of his eyes. Broads loved his
eyes. Even now, even now that he was an old fuck, the broads still
loved his eyes. Some were scared of them, but some loved them.

Louie paused a moment when he reached the corner of Sixth Avenue. He
lighted another cigarette. He turned downtown. He kept on walking.

Yeah, sixty-three fucking years old last May. And here he was,
walking down the avenue like a kid. He liked to walk, at night,
alone, even in this heat. It was nice. These nigger punks passing
him by in the street: they got nothing on me, he told himself. It
was true. It really was. It was like the man said. You're only as
old as you feel.

He thought of that broad in St. Louis: that broad with no arms. He
thought of that job in St. Louis: that son of a bitch would not go

May. April. March. February. January. December. November. October.
September. August. Well, ain't that a fucking pisser. He was
conceived in this fucking weather. Who the fuck would fuck in this
weather? Without even no fucking air-conditioning? Jesus Christ.

But what the fuck was he talking about? He used to fuck in this
fucking weather. Without no fucking air-conditioning. Yeah. He
remembered those smacking sounds, that puddle of sweat in
what's-her-name's belly, him coming down on her hard and fast,
endless fucking hours, his own sweat-drenched gut coming up from
that pool in her belly with a loud fucking smack, again and again,
faster and faster, harder and harder, louder and louder, like the
suction blast of a goddamn force-cup plunger unclogging a fucking
toilet bowl.

Yeah, maybe he was getting old, after all. Conceived in August.
Maybe that's why he didn't mind this heat, this stillness of dead,
heavy air that others could not take. Yeah. Conceived in August.
Sixty-three years ago. No. Sixty-four years ago.

What the fuck had he ever conceived? It had all ended up on his
right hand or in some cunt's yap. Dead-baby juice. And now it was
too late. Born alone, die alone. He was better off that way. Shit,
knowing him, he'd pay some broad to hold his hand when he died.
Money bought anything.

He made it to Fourteenth Street before he knew it. More niggers,
more spics. Shit, in the old days you wouldn't see a nigger below
Fourteenth Street. Then the basketball courts, the Jew cunts who go
for the dark meat; next thing you know, it ain't a fucking
neighborhood, it's a fucking nigger dumping ground. But he didn't
blame the fucking niggers. Who wouldn't rather fuck some kike bitch,
no matter how fucking ugly she was, than a goddamn nigger broad? Who
wouldn't rather be here than there? The trouble was, these days,
here was there. But, no, he didn't blame the niggers. He blamed
these white motherfuckers who had come in from the sticks with their
nigger-loving ways. They deserved what they got. And he blamed it on
the cops. He remembered when the neighborhood kids had taken
pipe-cutters to those basketball poles. He remembered when the
neighborhood kids had taken baseball bats to those nigger skulls. In
the old days, the cops would have covered for them. But these cops
now, they were different. They weren't from here. They were from
those fucking cop suburbs, and they didn't know shit about nothing.
They didn't even know where the fuck they were. They were worse than
the niggers.

fuck them. Now that there were no more neighborhoods, no more
neighborhood ways, no more neighborhood people, fuck these white
assholes. He was with the niggers. He was. Every time they killed a
cop, he felt good.

No, fuck them all. He wasn't with nobody. He kept walking. There was
a pang of pain in the groin muscle that he had pulled more than a
year ago. It was like it had never really healed right. It hit him
every once in a while, like a knife, on the inside of his right
thigh, just below his crotch. You get older, things don't heal fast.

He crossed Bleecker Street to Carmine Street. The humidity and his
sweat were heavy on him now. He made the sign of the cross on his
forehead with his thumb as he passed Our Lady of Pompeii, and the
humidity and sweat on his forehead felt like holy water to his
thumb. He ambled to the other side of the street, to a shit
restaurant with an ugly paint job. It was closed, and the kid was
inside by himself, sitting at a table with some paperwork and a
drink. Louie rapped on the door. The kid saw who it was, and he
stood and came fast to unlock the door.

"Makin' the rounds, my friend?" the kid said. His voice and manner
lay between deference and fake casual cheer. He was about
thirty-five, with beady eyes and a moustache. "Don't call me that."

At these words, the fake casual cheer faltered for a moment, and
Louie let it falter in silence. He turned away from the kid and
strode to the table where the kid had been sitting. He draped his
fine, fine jacket over a chair, then he sat, pushed aside some of
the paperwork, and lighted a cigarette.

"Give me a drink and an ashtray." The kid went behind the bar. The
fake casual cheer had returned to his manner, but it was more

"We got this new grappa. It's great." He raised some stupid-looking
fancy-ass tall tapered bottle for Louie to see.

"fuck you. Save that shit for the suckers. Just give me a Dewar's
and water on the rocks. And fuck the ashtray. I'll use the floor."

The kid came to him with the drink and an ashtray. He set them
before Louie, and he sat with him. "How's life?" the kid said.

Louie stared at the kid's moustache. The kid must have grown it in
the year or so since he had seen him last. "Back in the old days,
when I was a kid, the old-timers used to say the bigger the
moustache, the bigger the man." The fake casual cheer again grew

"Now, these days, I see a guy with a moustache, I figure he's either
a cop or a faggot. Or both." "I guess I better shave it off then,
huh, Lou?" he said with what remained of his unsettled fake casual
cheer. "Nah." Louie waved his hand and shrugged with a grimace.
"Leave it. Your father's a cop, right? Maybe you got that half-a-fag
cop streak in you. It suits you. The moustache."

The kid said nothing, for there was nothing that he could say. Being
Louie had its privileges, and Louie indulged them often. He crushed
out his cigarette, drank, and spoke again. "You know, your uncle's a
real fuck-up. I mean, don't get me wrong. You're a fuck-up too. But
you're small change. Your uncle, he's a real fuck-up. He had this
joint, did good for a while, pissed everything away gamblin'. He
comes cryin' to my friends. They help him out. He keeps fuckin' up.
He's runnin' cryin' to the bank over here to cover his checks to Con
Ed every third time he gets a shut-off notice. My friends don't like
that. Your uncle is one sick stupid fuck. And that is all that he
is." Louie looked at the kid's paperwork, which was mostly racing
charts and scribblings. "You know the story."

Louie drank, lighted another cigarette, smiled faintly. "Now that I
think of it, he's got a moustache too. Maybe God didn't give him that
walk of his for nothin'." He drank. "Anyway." He pulled the weight
from his pocket and laid it on the table: a Walther PPK
nine-millimeter semi-automatic pistol in a sealed plastic sandwich

The kid saw a black gun about six inches long in what appeared to be
a crumpled evidence bag. "Don't you think you ought to put that
away?" he said. "What if some cop walks by and looks in?"

Louie sneered. "When's the last time you seen a cop walk? They don't
walk no more. They go to the gym like the rest of these fruits, but
they don't walk. Shit, the last cop I seen walkin' a beat, it was a
broad. About five foot two, this butch haircut that came up to my
belly-button; looked like one of them ugly little Halloween gourds
with all the little bumps on her face and everything. New York's
finest. Like your old man: a worthless ugly little c-t."

The kid no longer looked Louie in the eyes. No one knew Louie, not
really, except maybe Louie and except maybe his boss, but everyone
knew not to fuck with Louie; and everyone, except maybe Louie and
except maybe his boss, feared him without really knowing why.

"Anyway. My friends, they figure that if I throw a scare into this
piece-of-shit uncle of yours, maybe he'll get the message." The kid
nodded uneasily, and he offered to get Louie another drink.

"Take it easy," Louie told him. "It's like the great Buddha said:
Moderation in all things. The Eightfold Path." He sneered at the
kid's moustache. "You ever take it up the ass? You ought to try it
sometime. Might make a man out of you." He looked at the kid's
averted eyes. He liked seeing things in people's eyes that had never
been there before. But he was getting tired, and enough was enough.
He looked at the cigarette he was smoking. There were a few drags
left, and he took them. He ground out the cigarette. "So," he said.
It was more like a heavy, weary sigh than a sound of any meaning.

"Like I say, you and your uncle, you're two of a kind. Two little
lyin' degenerate cocksuckers. And I know you been robbin' him,
sellin' the stock to other joints, a few bottles here, a few bottles
there. Chickenshit stuff. Nickels and dimes. But, then again, you're
a chickenshit little cocksucker. You rob just like your father,
who's another chickenshit little cocksucker." He paused, drank the
last of his drink. The melting ice felt good on his lips. "Your
mother, God rest her soul"-he wiped at his lips with the back of his
hand- "she was just a cocksucker. And not a very good one at that."
He looked for anger in those beady eyes, but that anger was occluded
by fear. Louie tilted his head slightly, studying the rest of the
kid's face.

"You're funny-lookin', you know that? How'd you get a broad to marry
you? She must be a worse fuckin' loser than you. I never seen her.
Your kids neither. I never seen them. You got a picture?" The kid
withdrew his wallet. Louie snatched it from his hand. He removed the
money that it held-it was not much-and he stuck it in his own

"Is this her?" The kid nodded. "We love each other," he said, as if
he meant it. Scared people say the stupidest shit.

Louie glanced at the picture. "Yeah. She's funny-lookin' too. Yeah.
You look like one of them, what do you call them, one of them things
that catch the rats, yeah, what do you call them, yeah, one of them
ferrets. And she looks like a pig. Can she suck cock at least? I
mean, any better than your mother could?" He looked at another
picture, a picture of a young boy and a younger girl. He seemed to
ponder it. "You cross a donkey and a horse, you get a mule. I guess
this is what you get when you cross a ferret and a pig. How old's
the little girl?"

"She'll be ten next month." "Like I said, I never met them, your
wife, your kids. Maybe I should take a ride out to Jersey one of
these days and pay my respects. I could find out if your wife sucks
cock any better than your mother. And what did you say, the girl was
ten? You know, it's funny, the older you get, the younger you like
your meat." He drew phlegm from his lungs into his mouth, and he
spat on the picture. Then he drew more phlegm from his lungs, and he
spat into the face of the kid.

The kid began to cry as he wiped the phlegm from his face with a
table napkin.

"What is it you want me to do?" he said. "Two things. First-and like
the arresting officer says: think about this before you answer,
because it may be the most important answer you ever give in your
life-how much money is in this shit-hole right now?"

"Just the take from tonight. About twelve hundred." "That's
pathetic." "It's all credit cards these days." "How much of this
twelve hundred did you already dip into?" "You took it." "Empty your
other pockets too."

The kid put about a hundred and eighty dollars and some coins on the
table. Louie took it and put it in his pocket. "Now, where's that
twelve hundred?"

"In the kitchen." "Let's go."

Louie rose. The kid rose. The kid began walking, to the left of the
bar, to the narrow passage that led to the kitchen. He could feel
Louie close behind him: very close behind him.

On the kitchen wall, there was a cheap ugly picture in a cheap ugly
frame: one of those Virgin Mary things that these kitchen spics went

"How come they call all these shit joints Italian restaurants?"
Louie snorted. "I mean, you can't find a wop in any one of these
fuckin' kitchens. They're all fuckin' Dominicans, Ecuadorians, this,
that, the other fuckin' thing. These ain't fuckin' Italian
restaurants, none of them. They're fuckin' spic joints. Who eats
this shit, anyway? Jews?"

The kid raised his arm and reached behind the picture and removed an
envelope and turned to give it to Louie, who held in his right hand
the gun in its plastic bag, and who with his left hand took the
envelope and shoved it in his back pocket. The kid did not ask about
the second of the two things that Louie wanted him to do.

"Now, remember what we were talkin' about-about makin' a man out of
you? Get on your fuckin' knees." "Lou, please, I'll do anything you
want me to do, but-" "Then just fuckin' do it."

Excerpted from In the Hand of Dante
by Nick Tosches Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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