Cartwheel, by Jennifer duBois

Cartwheel, by Jennifer duBois

Title: Cartwheel
Author: Jennifer duBois
Pages: 384
Originally Published: 2013
Format I Read: Kindle (via NetGalley)
Publisher: Random House
Rating: [rating:4]

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I received this book for free from the publisher. All content and opinions are my own.

The elevator pitch: it’s about a girl, accused of murder, who does a cartwheel in the interrogation room. You’re at least a little intrigued, right? It’s a good elevator pitch, but Cartwheel is about so much more. Here’s the publisher’s blurb for the published book, which, interestingly enough, does not even mention the cartwheel:

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.

Oh, kids. I have conflicted feelings about this one. I struggled a bit to get through it, though I couldn’t tell if it was the tiny bits of time I had to pick it up or pacing issues. And the blurb above isn’t kidding when it says “Cartwheel will keep you guessing until the final page.” Though, if that sentence implies there are answers on that final page, it’s misleading. There are not answers here, only sides of the story. Cartwheel is built using the Rashomon effect – telling the same story from several different points of view. This was both fascinating and annoying for me. When a book opens with a murder, I think we are pre-programmed as readers to expect to know whodunnit by the end, right? So, when duBois flipped this expectation on its head, I felt both betrayed and interested.

But this storytelling technique allows duBois to explore a number of questions about perceptions of truth and guilt and innocence and to make observations about human life. And that’s where this book really shines. It’s in the writing and the language and the ideas. This is a book I was very glad to have read in ebook form. It was delightfully easy to highlight away. Here are some of my favorite bits:

Other young girls felt this way, after all, and they went off on study abroad, and then after a semester they came home, behaving exactly as Lily would have: pretending to slip into Spanish or French by accident, ostentatiously mourning some newly beloved street food, telling stories they hoped would make other people admire their intrepidness as much as they themselves did.

That’s how most boys were, in her experience; they could love with real tenderness, but their love was almost always aimed at a woman’s most generic qualities – her sweetness or softness or relative beauty, her archetypal feminine characteristics, whatever Freudian maternal shadows she cast – and so it was fungible, nonspecific.  Empty, finally, even if it was technically real.

She did not know to regard the absence of comfort with fear – partly because she wasn’t particularly materialistic or entitled, but partly because she did not believe, not really, that such a state could ever truly be permanent.  And that was entitled, Andrew saw now – that expectation of the universe’s benignity.  Lily felt she did no wrong, and that this demanded that no wrong be done unto her.  The simplicity of this thinking beggared belief.  It was almost too perilously sad for Andrew to contemplate.

He remembered when Anna and Lily were small and terrified of their nightmares and would come crawling into bed with Andrew and Maureen to make them promise not to die.  Andrew had never been inclined to promise this, since, in fact, he and Maureen would someday die, and the best of all possible outcomes was that Anna and Lily would have to watch them do it.

She submitted to his embrace with the resignation of a person who has already planned to take away something enormous, and so has no trouble in giving something trifling.

The way to assure morality on Earth was not to behave as though there was a God, even if there wasn’t – it was to behave as though there was no God, even if there was.  We must act as though ours is all the judgment and forgiveness that is ever forthcoming, if we want any hope of getting anything right.

What else is there to say after that? Other than I liked it. I really liked it. And I think you will too.

Cartwheel, by Jennifer duBois [rating:4]

You can find Jennifer duBois on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.

Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for sending me this book for review.