What is revealed, in bits and pieces, is Lily, as a person, as a friend, as a daughter, as a lover, as a suspect. She is a 20-year-old girl struggling to become a 21-year-old woman; she tries not to care about her looks, but probably does; she fancies herself liberated enough not to believe in monogamy, but yearns for love nonetheless; she decides to be independent and grown-up and operate without parental advice as much as possible, but needs their love and support more than she can say.
"She was typical," her father reflects, not unkindly, "She was aggressively typical--all the more so if she didn't quite know it yet."
Over the course of the fast-paced, captivating novel, duBois reveals small details about Lily and her actions, both leading up to and after her arrest. Some of the details are small, insignificant, mundane: Lily dropped a glass at work, breaking it; Lily once killed a slug as a child; Lily liked Winnie-the-Pooh growing up. Others are more crucial: Lily kissed her boyfriend passionately, in public, mere hours after her roommates death; Lily had been smoking marijuana; Lily had blood on her face; Lily's DNA is at the crime scene. And one is the most important of them all: Lily did a cartwheel after being interrogated.
It is these details that give us the rest of the characters in Cartwheel: How do her parents view her actions? Her sister? What does the prosecution make of them? What of her boyfriend? How does the media make this look?
As duBois skillfully peels back the layers of Lily's life, from the photographs she took on her arrival in Argentina to stories of her childhood to her strange actions after her arrest, Lily's world comes to life before us. She is the daughter of parents who lost their oldest child; she is the older sister to a girl who feels overlooked; she is the not-so-liberated girl who might be falling in love with an oddball; she is the roommate of a student who appears to be perfect; she is the fall-guy for her host parents when things go wrong.
What Lily's life reveals in its ordinary details, in her daily emails with her family, her fights and makeups with her roommate, her strange conversations with her neighbor, is precisely that it is ordinary. And yet this extraordinary thing has happened to her--murder, and arrest, and it casts everything in a new light.
duBois is no stranger to using the mundane to reveal a bigger, grander story about what it is to live; her skill with language, her impeccable sentences, and her tendency to probe the philosophical questions of life were what made me fall in love with her debut, A Partial History of Lost Causes. In Cartwheel, she has turned these skills to answering the typical whodunit question, "Did she do it?" But what comes to light as she progresses is that that is not the important question at all; what really matters is how we answer the question, "Could she do it?" This is the driving force behind the narrative in Cartwheel, and what keeps a well-covered subject from every feeling stale in duBois' very skilled hands.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Thanks to the publisher for providing an e-galley of this title for review.
Cartwheel | Jennifer duBois | Random House | Hardcover | September 2013 | 384 pages