Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois

Lily Hayes and Katy Kellers are 21-year-old Americans living with an Argentine family while they spend a scholarship semester in Buenos Aires. Five weeks after they meet, Lily is charged with the murder of her roommate. After initial questioning by police (without a lawyer), Lily was left alone in the interrogation room. She then turned a cartwheel, a fact widely debated in the media frenzy surrounding the investigation. Is this an indicator of guilt or innocence?

In Cartwheel, Jennifer duBois keeps switching to different points of view, allowing readers to approach the murder from different angles. Appearances are deceiving, as evidenced by the following three interpretations of the same photos on Lily's camera.

"There was a picture of Lily standing in front of a church, and Andrew grimaced again at what she was wearing: a low-cut top, one of those cheap, flimsy things she bought at deep-discount clothes warehouses. All the women around her were dressed conservatively. Had she really not noticed? [...] In one photo, Lily licks salt from her hand; in the next, she sucks on a lime." (Lily's father, Andrew Hayes)

"And here is Lily Hayes, standing in front of the Basilica Nuestra Senora de Lujan, her prodigious bosom spilling out over a too-tight tank top. She is nearly aglow with the light of her narcissism. Does she notice that all the other women are modestly dressed, that their heads are covered? She either does not notice, or she does not care. A person who does not notice is silly. A person who does not care is dangerous." (Eduardo Campos, the chief prosecutor)

"She spent a day taking the train out to the basilica in Lujan to try to see what all the Catholic fuss was about. She sat in bars drinking Quilmes and trying to look mysterious; she sat in cafes eating alfajors and licking powdered sugar off her fingers and not minding that she looked silly." (Lily)

Even more interesting than the puzzle of who committed the murder, are duBois' character portrayals. The entire Hayes family, broken by the death of their first daughter, many years earlier. Sebastien, Lily's agoraphobic and eccentric boyfriend next door. Unhappy Eduardo and his unstable wife, Maria.

"Eduardo did not blink. His own depression was a thing with claws and teeth and eyes, its own set of tics and preoccupations and prejudices, its own entire integrated personality. The trick to not killing yourself was to convince yourself, every single day, that your departure from the world would have a devastating effect on absolutely everyone around you, despite consistent evidence to the contrary."

I love books like this that present reality as something that shifts, depending on perspective. Cartwheel is a satisfying page-turner that leaves room for speculation beyond the final lines.

Readalikes: Five Star Billionaire (Tash Aw); You Are One of Them (Elliott Holt); So Much Pretty (Cara Hoffman); Where Things Come Back (John Corey Whaley); The Monkey's Mask (Dorothy Porter).

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