Published by Random House Audio on September 24, 2013
Length: 14 hours and 25 minutes
Written with the riveting storytelling and moral seriousness of authors like Emma Donoghue, Adam Johnson, Ann Patchett, and Curtis Sittenfeld, Cartwheel is a suspenseful and haunting novel of an American foreign exchange student arrested for murder, and a father trying to hold his family together.
When Lily Hayes arrives in Buenos Aires for her semester abroad, she is enchanted by everything she encounters: the colorful buildings, the street food, the handsome, elusive man next door. Her studious roommate Katy is a bit of a bore, but Lily didn’t come to Argentina to hang out with other Americans.
Five weeks later, Katy is found brutally murdered in their shared home, and Lily is the prime suspect. But who is Lily Hayes? It depends on who’s asking. As the case takes shape—revealing deceptions, secrets, and suspicious DNA—Lily appears alternately sinister and guileless through the eyes of those around her: the media, her family, the man who loves her and the man who seeks her conviction. With mordant wit and keen emotional insight, Cartwheel offers a prismatic investigation of the ways we decide what to see—and to believe—in one another and ourselves.
Jennifer duBois’s debut novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes, was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction and was honored by the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 program. In Cartwheel, duBois delivers a novel of propulsive psychological suspense and rare moral nuance. Who is Lily Hayes? What happened to her roommate? No two readers will agree. Cartwheel will keep you guessing until the final page, and its questions about how much we really know about ourselves will linger well beyond.
‘Although the themes of this book were loosely inspired by the story of Amanda Knox, this is entirely a work of fiction. None of the characters are real. None of the events ever happened. Nothing in the book should be read as a factual statement about real-life events or people.’
‘Loosely inspired’ would imply that a subject was taken and adapted and molded to fit into a new version of the story. Cartwheel is an echo, a reflection and lacks in any true substantive differences from the headlines other than the location (Italy vs. Argentina). I know next to nothing about the Amanda Knox case as I never followed closely along with the court proceedings, however, even with the paltry details I have gathered I see no true differentiation that would warrant the term ‘loosely inspired’. Cartwheel is at heart a character study but ultimately lacks in creative elements.
The writing style was well-written yet extremely tedious and I found myself setting my print copy aside and opting for the audio version. The excessive use of prose was an obvious intent to place this novel solidly in the realm of ‘literary’ but it gave the story an overstated and exaggerated feel that did more harm than good. The story was told from the point of view of several individuals such as Lily’s dad, her sister Anna, the prosecutor and Lily’s boyfriend Sebastian. Each character is extensively detailed but I felt Lily herself was drawn vaguely in a possible attempt to retain the mystery behind her guilt/innocence. The details from the point of view of the prosecutor were informative but the details regarding his estranged wife felt ultimately unessential and detracted from the story.
The ending was the most underwhelming of all as questions remained unanswered and just like the actual Amanda Knox story, we’re left to decide whether or not to believe in her innocence. The examination of individuals involved was in depth and detailed yet there was an emotional disconnect. So many pages were spent delving into the intricate details of Lily’s actions and how even minor actions transformed others opinions and perceptions of her. It all felt very superfluous compared to the amount of time spent on the trial itself though and the ending was extremely rushed compared to the slower pace we became accustomed to. The fact that so much of Lily’s case was based on those perceptions vs. actual concrete evidence was interesting but made for a very ponderous read. The ultimate duplication of a big news story seems solely as a means for the author to showcase her obvious writing skills but only puts a spotlight on her complete lack of creativity.