Cartwheel - Jennifer duBois



It ...was...a...split!


The story of Amanda Knox reminds me vividly of Joe McGinniss' true crime bestseller Fatal Vision, the 1970 case of Jeff MacDonald-  ex -Green Beret surgeon accused of killing his family in "Manson-style" at his Fort Bragg military based home (it was suggested that MacDonald murdered in a drug-induced fit of rage; he is still serving concurrent life sentences).
Similarly, it recalls to mind, Truman Capote's true crime classic In Cold Blood - the gruesome Kansas killings in 1959 of a farmer and his family (the accused Dick Hickock and Perry Smith were both executed in 1965).


Cartwheel is fiction unlike In Cold Blood and Fatal Vision which are true investigational journalistic works. And it is not about Amanda Knox- this is clearly stated in the author's opening disclaimer page. Smart move, because at present, the only evidence related to this murder (since the reading public isn't privy to actual court transcripts) would be gleaned from media headlines (which,at the very least, can be inaccurately informative). It is a work of fiction loosely based on the highly sensational murder of exchange student Amanda Knox's roommate, Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy; a case that is still being played out in Italian court.


The protagonist is twenty one year old Lily Hayes who comes from an upper middle class home of divorced parents, the second child in a family of three girls (the first having died extremely young), and who has led up to this point, a sheltered, overprotected, somewhat stifled life. Looking forward to new opportunities as an exchange student in a foreign country, Lily has the feeling of freedom at last, away from parents for the first time.


In Cartwheel, duBois used a clever piece of strategy by placing the murder in an alternate setting such as Buenos Aires, where the language barrier could still be a major issue, where seemingly benign behaviors of an alien culture could still be misconstrued, or the societal norms of a foreign land might similarly render the treatment of genders with a degree of uneven ambivalence . I even detected a slight allusion to the Spanish Inquisition during the interrogation process. The whole premise of the novel is based on judgment of the accused relative to one's perception versus factual hard evidence.


Through the narrative from several points of view-  Andrew- Lily's father; Eduardo Campos - the representative for the investigative magistrate; Sebastien LeComte- the boyfriend; and Lily herself - an insightful psychological profile is built of a naïve girl, suffering low self esteem and self awareness ; a young adult newly forming her own sense of identity, experimenting with new social outlets, who is probably not the best judge of character or who is not mature enough to make the best choices. The foundation of her relationship with Katy, her roommate, has undertones of disdain and jealousy, possibly from her (Lily's) own lack of self confidence. She has an affair with the reclusive Sebastien LeComte (such a pretentious name), neighbor to the Carrizo's- the hosting family with whom Hayes is boarding. LeComte does seem pretentious - a strange character with a manner of speech that implies secrecy, a "postapocalyptic butler" (according to Lily's father) living secluded in a crumpling old mansion that looks like it's stuck in a medieval time warp.


Lily is seen as aloof and unemotional, even arrogant when in interrogation, she complains that "the conversation is getting boring." To the media, her demeanor at the crime scene appears disconnected, uninvolved when she's pictured snuggling with Sebastien. She baffles everyone soon after the murder, when she does a cartwheel in the interrogation room, suggesting to investigators that she is cold hearted.


One must not compare..but ~


DuBois insists this story is not about Amanda Knox, but she cleverly injected her fictionalized version of Amanda with something that all of us, who watched this play out on screen, would not have ordinarily fathomed. She was able to humanize
the media-generated version of Knox by showing such human frailties and flaws in Lily- the unassuredness and vulnerability which, from the beginning, the easily-swayed Lily had been trying to overcome. By showing an unworldly side of Lily Hayes, duBois has presented a softened, alternate, possible view of the real person we've seen in the media.


The novel's progression keenly spun like a cartwheel in a gymnastics act, with many variable posits to consider. My own judgment is a hands-down split decision.