Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois
Random House, 9/24/2013
Hardcover, 384 pages
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.
In Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois, Lily Hayes, a Middlebury College student, is accused of murdering her roommate, Katy Kellers, after only five weeks into her semester studying abroad in Buenos Aires. Most of the novel flips between before the murder and after the murder and is told through the eyes of several characters: Lily, Sebastien LeCompte (the rich young man next door who was Lily's boyfriend), Eduardo Campos ( the state investigator), and Andrew (Lily's father). The title of the novel is taken from the cartwheel Lily does while in police custody for the murder.
The first fact most readers of Cartwheel are going to notice is the close resemblance of duBois' fictional novel to the real-life 2007 Amanda Knox case. (Although I didn't closely follow that case, apparently Amanda also did a cartwheel while in custody.) The setting is different, as the Knox case was in Italy and this is set in Argentina. DuBois affirmed that, "the themes of this book were loosely inspired by the story of Amanda Knox."
What follows, after we learn of the brutal murder and the facts are slowly revealed, is a novel that is more character study than a mystery or crime novel. Since we know right at the beginning that a murder has happened and Lily is in custody, I was anticipating an interesting twist - or at the very least mounting evidence pointing building up doubt. That's just not the case here. The shame is not that Cartwheel was based on the Knox case, but that it was almost too closely based on the Knox case.
I guess I wanted either a crime novel or a character study. And if the choice is a character study, then I wanted it to delve into the characters in more depth.
Lily is the number one suspect right from the start , but Lily's internal dialogue is really only heard before the murder, while duBois had the reader looking at Lily through the eyes of others after the murder. I can grasp the idea that everyone is looking at Lily and assessing her guilt or innocence through their own experiences with her, but, for me, the freedom to fully explore Lily's emotional and psychological state in depth might have helped the novel. I really wanted Lily's voice added to the others, even if only as a conclusion, because I wanted more information about Lily. Additionally, at the end I longed for more information about the actual trial/case.
What elevates Cartwheel is duBois' skillful writing. I am sure she purposefully planned the ambiguities found in assessing guilt and judging the character and actions of one person through the eyes of others. The question is, though, can we really ever know another person or their motives through the assessment of others? I guess I stayed with duBois right up until the end, at which point I was a little let down.
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from Random House and TLC for review purposes.