Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois
Random House, September 2013
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.
The book opens with a disclaimer that while this book is “loosely inspired by the story of Amanda Knox,” it is entirely fiction. I decided to read the book not because I’m interested in Amanda Knox but because I really liked duBois’s first book, A Partial History of Lost Causes. All in all, I prefer her debut novel to Cartwheel, and what it comes down to is that the Cartwheel seems to have low stakes.
Cartwheel focuses on the story of Lily Hayes, an American college student who moves to Buenos Aires to study. She finds her roommate Katy murdered about a month into their stay with a local family, and Lily is tried for her murder. She’s an idiosyncratic character who for some reason performs a cartwheel while being interviewed by the police or prosecutor, and duBois imagines that we’re invested in her story because of the surrounding media frenzy around her prosecution. We jump in time to cover Lily’s time in Argentina before and after the murder, and we see her story through her eyes as well as the eyes of her parents, her younger sister, her boyfriend, and her prosecutor. It’s a story about whether or not she could have murdered her roommate Katy.
My feeling that the book has low stakes is that there doesn’t seem to be much of a focus on Katy, the murdered victim. A police procedural, at least, focuses on aspects of the crime and finding justice for the victim no matter how long it takes. Focusing on a woman accused of murder without paying much attention to the deceased seems like I’m gawking at the character of Lily. I’m ambivalent about this book, and I recommend duBois’s first book for more psychological insight and life and death issues: it’s about a young woman grappling with a Huntington’s diagnosis in her twenties after her father died of the disease.