Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Review - Jennifer duBois's Cartwheel

Cartwheel by Jennifer DuBois
Published by: Random House Trade Paperbacks
Publication Date: September 24th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 416 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Lily Hayes didn't know that deciding to do a semester abroad in Argentina would be the end of the life she knew. Lily thought it would take her out of her comfort zone, give her a greater view of the world. Instead she's in a prison cell accused of murdering her roommate Katy. As her family comes to her aid, the life Lily really lead in Buenos Aires starts to take shape. The drugs, the men, the conflicts with her host family and her roommate. Everything starts to take shape proving Lily's guilt, which the media devours like a hungry animal. DNA, timelines, secrets, lies, can Lily actually return to the life she had or will her life ever be tainted by what happened to Katy and that cartwheel she did while being interrogated?

When this book was drawn out of the hat at book club (yes, we do trust the caprice of fate for our next reading selection) I was actually intrigued. Despite being another book fictionalizing actual events, the second in a row for book club, I thought that this book could give me something I've been craving, closure. Cartwheel is based on the Amanda Knox trial. Loosely based. Though it should be noted, hitting all the important details of the case from bar owners to feces. Oddly in my family the Amanda Knox trial is a source of contention. Why would this be? Well, my father and I both strongly believe in Amanda's guilt. Everything I've heard and seen makes me certain of this fact. It doesn't mean this is true, this is what I believe to be true. My mother strongly disagrees with my father and I having such a blanket statement of her guilt. So anytime the subject comes up my mother gets exasperated with us for condemning this innocent young girl (innocent my ass is what I usually reply with.) Therefore, subject on contention.

I was hoping that Cartwheel would give me some kind of closure so that I could move on and get to a stage where I didn't feel the need to bring up the Knox case and keep the strife alive. Because dammit, she's guilty and if this book could give me this proof, even ersatz proof, then I could quite literally close the book on all this. But this is just what made me seethe with rage at Jennifer duBois. Life doesn't give us clear cut answers, that's why we turn to books. Life is easier in books. You have a question, you get an answer. Straight forward and easy, hence why many people would rather live in books. She had the chance to write a what-if answer, an ending. An ending that we will probably never get in real life and she blew it. There was no ending, there was no conclusion. To you, Jennifer duBois, I say fuck you.

Yet the ending, or lack thereof, isn't the only gripe I have with this book, not by a long shot. Having a book with multiple narrators is tricky. There has to be balance and variety to keep the book's forward momentum. A bad narrator is the kiss of death, the reader will just check right out of the book. Cartwheel suffers because the book is hard to get into because the narration of Lily's father is mind numbingly dull. Logistics about being there for Lily, money worries, lawyers blah blah blah. I don't care about police policies or the legal system, get to the murder, get to the juicy bits, don't drag the opening to breaking point so that the average reader will just toss the book aside. If I didn't have the hard and fast rule that I finish what I start, and I definitely finish what's for book club, well, this book would have been flung out a window shortly into starting it.

The only bearable narrator was Lily herself. She gave you the first person, though unreliable, narration that was needed. Seeing things through her eyes made the story temporarily work. Where the book really failed is that once the arrest happens we abandon Lily and her thoughts. She's just a person in a box. We get no insight, no revelations. The "ending" sneaks up on us and it's muddled and ill conceived and what really happened!?! We lose Lily's voice and then everything falls apart and there's no more pages. WTF!?! Really, just give us the whatever ending? It's like Jennifer duBois got to the end and threw up her hands and just gave up. Could she really not make up an ending? Isn't that what writers do? I invested time and energy in this book, I deserve closure!

In fact, here's how the book should have ended. Tie everything together and make it interesting. Eduardo the lawyer and his weird wife, make them no longer peripheral, make his crazy wife's return a ploy to distract him from his work because she's being paid to help the case for Lily. Just an idea, because, really, what other purpose do these two characters have otherwise? But what I think would have solved all my issues with wasted opportunities would have been if we had one final narrator at the end, and that narrator was Katy. To get the truth from her point of view, to have her speak from "beyond the grave" and tell us what really happened. Why can't writers just get it right sometimes? Because getting it wrong, well, it hurts us all.


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