Cartwheel, Jennifer duBois, Random House Inc, 2013, 326 pp
Right up front I have to say that I did not like this as much as her first novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes. I had signed up to discuss Cartwheel as part of an on-line book discussion so possibly I pushed myself to read it at a time not ideal for me. I felt annoyed while reading it.
I think that generally fictionalized accounts of real life events are not my favorite novels. Some are better than others but I can usually feel a certain constraint affecting authors I otherwise enjoy. Cartwheel is "loosely inspired" by the story of Amanda Knox, an exchange student in Italy accused of murdering her roommate. I knew nothing about Amanda Knox, but in this story of an exchange student in Argentina arrested for the murder of her roommate, I missed the emotional impact of Ms duBois's astounding first novel.
I suspect however that my annoyance stemmed from the pervasive influence of the tabloid press, social networking, and the current practice of police being able to subpoena the cell phone and internet data of an accused criminal. All of these factors now carry much more weight than ever before in a criminal investigation. Being confronted with this makes me want to never send another text or email, never post another blog and go off Facebook. It just creeps me out to the max.
I found myself desperate to know for sure whether or not Lily killed her roommate, but it was not made clear and I was unable to decide for myself. In fact, I could not decide much about any of the main characters.
I get it that really knowing another person is nearly impossible. I am aware that we all see other people through our own perceptions. Heck, sometimes I feel I don't really know the people closest to me. Lately I can't figure out how I feel about President Obama. I admit that Jennifer duBois made me look at these upsetting truths about life and that made me mad.
I recognized the skill by which she created this disturbing mess of human weakness and probable injustice. Yes, Lily Hayes was naive and careless, unable to see the consequences of her actions. But aren't we all like that to a degree? And how can anyone live if we must be so careful and savvy about the world to avoid ruining our lives irreparably? I was left feeling that life itself is a lost cause.
This author really got to me in both of her novels. The first time, I loved it. This time I almost hated it.
(Cartwheel is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)