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Cartwheel: A Novel by [duBois, Jennifer]
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3.3 out of 5 stars 177 customer reviews

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Length: 385 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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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.

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

Product details

  • File Size: 2429 KB
  • Print Length: 385 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (September 24, 2013)
  • Publication Date: September 24, 2013
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Screen Reader: Supported
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #357,237 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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