I felt like I was in a bit of a reading slump until Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois came along. What a well paced, well written, character driven page turner. I read it quickly and effortlessly and came out of it feeling satisfied. That’s about all I ask out of a book.
According to the author, the inspiration for the story came from the Amanda Knox trial. In Cartwheel, Lily is accused of having killed her roommate during her semester abroad in Argentina. The narrative moves around to various points of view: Lily, Lily’s father Andrew, the prosecuting lawyer, and Lily’s social awkward boyfriend. It also moves back and forth in time over a three month period in which the events occur. By employing this method, duBois is able to give extremely well thought out characters. In particular, the attention she gives to Eduardo, the prosecuting attorney, really adds an additional dimension to the story.
I was particularly taken with duBois writing style. It is crisp and clear without being simplified in the least. What comes across is an intelligent and articulate young voice. In a segment in which Andrew, Lily’s father, considered the plight he finds his family in, his liberal intellect gets in his way of truly complaining:
he had to weigh it against his socioeconomic privilage, health, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality, American citizenship, etc., etc.; he’d been in academia long enough to know how far the scales were tipped in his favor, and how strenusouly he must try at all times to acknowledge this, and how earnestly he must attempt to make his life an apology for its central accidents — and yet, and yet.
Who would like this book? Cartwheel will certainly appeal to those who are interested in following the scandals of the day like the Amanda Knox case, though I must stress that knowledge of this case is not integral to the reading. I knew next to nothing about it until I wrote this post. I am a little surprised not see Cartwheel on the National Book Award long list. To me duBois is a writer to watch, and the awards she has garnered so far in her career certainly support this. Notably, in her acknowledgements she thanks friends such as Ryan McIlvain and Maggie Shipstead, who like duBois are writers we should keep our eyes open for. I have not read duBois earlier work, but I am definitely adding her previous novel A Partial History of Lost Causes to my list.