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Cartwheel: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle) Paperback – May 20, 2014

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Editorial Reviews Review

Essay by Author Jennifer duBois

In some of its themes, Cartwheel draws inspiration from the case of Amanda Knox, the American foreign exchange student accused, convicted, and acquitted of murdering her roommate in Italy. I was fascinated by the idea of writing about a fictional character who serves as a blank slate onto which an array of interpretations—often inflected by issues of class and privilege, gender and religion, American entitlement and anti-American resentment—tend to be projected. The fictional Lily Hayes shares these broad and nebulous qualities with Amanda Knox; their similarities lie in the contradictory but confident judgments they animate in others.

The eponymous cartwheel serves as a good example of the novel’s intention, as well as its relationship to reality. In the book, some view Lily Hayes’s interrogation room gymnastics as callous, others as benign, others as suspicious. These divided perceptions were initially inspired by the response to the cartwheel Amanda Knox was widely reported to have done during her interrogation—a cartwheel that, we now know, never actually occurred. This episode, I think, illustrates some of the central questions I wanted to explore in this novel—questions about how we decide what to believe, and what to keep believing—while also demonstrating part of why I needed a totally fictional realm to do this.

In contemplating the possibility that this book could be mistaken as a narrative about—and judgment on—real-life people and events, I’ve come to appreciate how entirely my view of writing and reading fiction is based on a single moral premise: that the act of imagining the experiences of fictional people develops our sense of empathy, as well as our sense of humility, in regarding the experiences of real ones. To me, the fictional barrier around the characters in this book isn’t just a necessary prerequisite for trying (or even wanting) to write a novel about the fallibility of perception—it’s also fundamental to my notion of fiction’s ethical possibilities in the world. And so it is as a person, even more than as an author, that I ask readers to have no doubt as to whose story this is. In the real universe is a girl who never did a cartwheel. This novel is the story of a girl who did.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Lily Hayes, 21, is a study-abroad student in Buenos Aires. Her life seems fairly unexceptional until her roommate, Katy, is brutally murdered, and Lily, charged with the crime, is remanded to prison pending her trial. But is she guilty, and who is Lily, really? To find answers to these questions, the novel is told from multiple points of view—not only that of Lily but also that of her family; of sardonic Sebastien, the boy with whom she has been having an affair; and of the prosecutor in the case. In the process, it raises even more questions. What possible motive could Lily have had? Why, left momentarily alone after her first interrogation, did she turn a cartwheel? And has she, as her sister asserts, always been weird? In her skillful examination of these matters, the author does an excellent job of creating and maintaining a pervasive feeling of foreboding and suspense. Sometimes bleak, duBois’ ambitious second novel is an acute psychological study of character that rises to the level of the philosophical, specifically the existential. In this it may not be for every reader, but fans of character-driven literary fiction will welcome its challenges. Though inspired by the Amanda Knox case, Cartwheel is very much its own individual work of the author’s creative imagination. --Michael Cart --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Random House Reader's Circle
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (May 20, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812985826
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812985825
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (178 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,259 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jennifer duBois was born in Northampton, MA in 1983. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a former Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, duBois' work has appeared in Playboy, the Wall Street Journal, The Missouri Review, The Kenyon Review, Narrative and elsewhere. Her first novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes, was published by The Dial Press in 2012, and was honored by the National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35 program. In her spare time, duBois enjoys reading tales of disaster on Everest and smugly reminding everyone that she has a subscription to the Economist.

Twitter: @jennifer_dubois

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By E. Burian-Mohr TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Lily Hayes is a college student doing a semester abroad in Buenos Aires. She is living with the Carrizos and rooming with Katy Kellers, who Lily finds just a little too perfect and, as a result, a little too boring. Lily, on the other hand, has never behaved in the ways expected of her, and being in Buenos Aires, she sees no reason to change her ways. Even when it is pointed out to her that her behavior is inappropriate, it never occurs to Lily to apologize or change. This makes the housing situation difficult. Beatriz Carrizo, in an attempt to be a good exchange family, invites a neighbor to dinner one night: Sebastien LeCompte. Only Sebastien isn't the good ol' boy next door; he's the orphan of possible spies who died (or were killed) when he was in his teens. He lives in a cavernous old house, filled with treasures draped in sheets (including a bizarre photo of his father-son hunting adventure). Sebastien rarely leaves or does anything, and does his best to appear elusive and evasive.

Lily and Sebastien embark on a relationship, to the delight of no one except, perhaps, Sebastien. She also gets a job at a local bar, and continues to do whatever she pleases.

Except then Katy is found murdered, and Lily is the prime suspect. In fact, Lily's the only suspect. During her interrogation she declines counsel, behaves in her usually inappropriate ways, and does a cartwheel in the interview room. As her emails and photos are revealed to the population of Buenos Aires, Lily is seen more and more as an uncaring villain. Her alibi is weak and her actions inexplicable.

Her family arrives to help. Prosecuting attorney, Eduardo Campos interviews everyone he can find, not only to build a case against Lily, but to understand what happened, why, and how.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I must be one of the few people in America not to know about the Amanda Knox case, except that she was tried for the murder of her roommate, a fellow exchange student at the University of Perugia. Which ought to have been helpful, since Jennifer Dubois writes: "Although the themes of this book were loosely inspired by the story of Amanda Knox, this is entirely a work of fiction." So I was prepared to enjoy, unfettered, a story about another American exchange student, Lily Hayes, arrested for a similar murder, only this time in Buenos Aires. I could see that the book was well written. I was looking forward to watch with interest as the facts emerged and theories unfolded, like a good detective story. And, as with a good novel, I looked forward to seeing the fictional Lily emerge as a real person in her own right. In the end, though, I was disappointed. I read with interest throughout, but felt that Dubois had not quite succeeded in balancing the detective aspects with the novelistic ones. More seriously, I felt she had been untrue to her stated intent: despite her intention of developing her imagined characters in her own way, the book kept taking turns that I felt arbitrary in terms of Lily Hayes, but which I later discovered were close parallels with Amanda Knox. The novel was a compromise between fact and fiction that ultimately did disservice to both.

Both novel and detective aspects get a strong showing in the opening chapters. The first has Lily's father, Andrew Hayes, a college professor, arrive in Buenos Aires with his younger daughter Anna; Maureen, Lily's mother, will arrive in a few days. It is a wonderful study in psychology, as they struggle to believe how the Lily they knew could ever be accused of such a thing; it also begins a journey deep into the Hayes family dynamics.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Yolanda S. Bean VINE VOICE on December 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
From the very beginning, the author openly acknowledges that this literary “thriller” is based on the real-life Amanda Knox case. Though I vaguely recall some news bulletins on the real case, it is actually the study abroad element to the story that initially drew me the novel. Lily Hayes leaves the northeastern U.S. for a semester in Buenos Aires. Along with another young woman, Katy Kellers from California, she lives with a host family. Told from various perspectives, duBois opens the novel with Lily in jail for the murder of her roommate. Her family arrives to see her and the remainder of the novel alternates between this present and the past events leading up to Lily’s incarceration.

At first, the slow pace gives the book a bit of a tantalizing quality - the reader feels anxious to learn just what happened to land this young woman in prison. But, as the book continues to drag on (and on!), with characters all totally self-absorbed and preoccupied with how their own intelligence is conveyed to others, it becomes more and more difficult to plod through the remainder of the novel. And the payout, ultimately, isn’t even worth it. Even the victim, the elusive Katy Kellers, loses any initial sympathy, when she begins to act in the same unlikable way as every other character in the story. It also seems odd that so many other perspectives are offered, but never Katy’s.

The book feels like it’s striving to be considered a literary thriller and is focused too much on the literary half of the equation. There is nothing thrilling about this. It is slow paced, and even illogical at times. The prosecuting attorney’s entire perspective adds nothing to the overall story and feels like filler. There are repetitive sections as the same memories come filtered through each point-of-view.
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