Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Review: Cartwheel

Summary: Written with the riveting storytelling 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. 

In Cartwheel, duBois delivers a novel of propulsive psychological suspense and rare moral nuance. No two readers will agree who Lily is and what happened to her roommate. Cartwheel will keep you guessing until the final page, and its questions about how well we really know ourselves will linger well beyond. -- Random House

When I read the description for CARTWHEEL by Jennifer Dubois, it sounded an awful lot like the Amanda Knox story. Of course, I knew the author was writing a fictional account of a foreign exchange student being charged with murdering her roommate. The setting was Buenos Aires instead of Italy, and the main characters were different. But it still seemed to have a lot in common with the Amanda Knox story. Despite having read numerous outstanding reviews of this book, I admit that I had my doubts.

In CARTWHEEL, Ms. Dubois does an excellent job of showcasing a crime and then the effects it has on those involved. The novel, of course, follows Lily -- the prime suspect, but it also shows how her family, her boyfriend, the media, and even the prosecutor see the events. It delves deeply into who is Lily Hayes, but it doesn't really give the reader a clear-cut answer. But that's okay because I think each reader will have their own opinion of Lily, much like everyone has their own opinion of Amanda Knox. I actually think the book ends up being less about who Lily truly is and more about how Lily and her actions were interpreted by others.

A few years ago, I read a non-fiction account of the Amanda Knox story; and I admit that I was fascinated by not only the crime, but also Ms. Knox and her behavior. One of the things she did that struck me as a bit odd was when she did a cartwheel at the police headquarters after she was interrogated. My initial reaction was how could she be so cavalier when her roommate was brutally murdered. But then, I began looking at it differently. Would she do a cartwheel if she had just committed a murder? Quite honestly, I wasn't sure what to make of that action!

I guess the author agreed that Ms. Knox's famous cartwheel was a little out of the ordinary, and she decided to have her character Lily do the same thing. I really think that this action (and also the title of this novel) was a perfect symbol for this story. As a reader, I admit that I was confused about Lily because the author did such a fine job of blurring Lily's actions. On a larger scale, I liked that this novel made me think as much as it did -- not only about these characters or the crime, but also about my assumptions about people in general.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how incredible of a writer Ms. Dubois is. Her ability to get inside these characters' minds and showcase the moral ambiguities was extremely unique; however, she also presented the story is such a way as to make it read like a thriller. Furthermore, her prose was pretty darn impressive. I appreciated her descriptions and the rawness of her writing, but I will say that she used more big words per page than I am used to seeing.

I do think CARTWHEEL would make an excellent book club selection because it does call into question so much of what we assume about people and their actions. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a discussion guide which is really a shame. I'm not sure that you need one to have a worthwhile meeting, but I do think it would be nice to have a little guidance!

Overall, I was extremely impressed with CARTWHEEL. Highly recommend for fans of literary and psychological thrillers.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

I had no idea Amanda Knox did a cartwheel at the police station. I'm intrigued by this book.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I've had this book on my Need List since it came out. I love true crime, and while this is theoretically fiction, its close enough to intrigue me.

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

Like Kathy, I had no idea Amanda Knox did a cartwheel at the police station. Now I am even more interested in this book. I'm glad to hear you were impressed with the book!

Anonymous said...

Good review! I just read this book this past week also and had similar thoughts. I read the Amanda Knox memoir earlier this year and this book was very close in the major details of the plot. Thanks for your honest opinion.

Beth F said...

Like the others, I somehow missed the famous cartwheel. I might have to give this one a try.