In Cartwheel, Jennifer DuBois Builds An Amanda Knox Rorschach Test

I’ve taken a brief break from blogging this week. With all that’s going on, it didn’t feel right to continue business as usual. Also, I’ve been sick, and I started a new seasonal job. But, I’m back. Onwards, to Cartwheel:


‘Well, we spent enough on gymnastics.’
‘Christ, did we,’ said Maureen. ‘So many lessons.’
So many lessons, it was true: art and music and ice-skating; Lily’s every fleeting interest enthusiastically, abundantly indulged. Not to mention the many more practical investments–chemistry tutoring when she struggled, English enrichment when she excelled, SAT courses to propel her to the school and then, presumably, the career of her dreams. What costs had been sunk, what objections had been suppressed, to deliver their daughter into the open and waiting arms of her beautiful life.

–Jennifer DuBois, Cartwheel

Jennifer DuBois disclaims that her second novel Cartwheel is “loosely inspired by the story of Amanda Knox.” DuBois mirrors facts of the Knox case in her own plot: when the young, beautiful American Lily is accused of murdering her roommate in Buenos Aires, her DNA is on the knife and the bra strap, there’s a local boyfriend, and a recently lost waitressing job at a bar. And there is, of course, the cartwheel, which Lily does during a break between interviews just after her roommate’s death.

DuBois builds characters around these facts, using the bones of the Knox case to explore that dark and wild unchartered territory running through each character’s head, those little details never discussed aloud. The things we Google at night. The people who’ve left us. DuBois exposes private dialogues–internal or intimate, between despairing parents in a hotel room or confused ex-lovers in a prison visiting area. She sculpts fictional characters that remind us how little we know of a person through courtroom head shots, news articles, and security camera footage.

Each narrator of Lily’s story, from the prosecutor infuriated by the photos Lily feels entitled to snap of locals, to her father, who waffles between thinking he’s protected her too much from the world and wanting to protect her more, sees a wildly different young woman depending on their own belief systems. In this way, Lily isn’t her own character as much as she’s a chameleon, reflecting back the belief systems of those around her in the way they find most satisfying.

In an interview with Barnes and Noble, Dubois explained, “It was that notion of a character who serves as a blank slate, or perhaps a Rorschach test—somebody who we regard through the prism of our own lives and preoccupations, somebody in whom people see different things but everybody sees something—that made me want to write Cartwheel.” And it is that notion, of how much we project onto unknowable people involved in media spectacles, and how much the media projects onto them to fill air time, that moves Cartwheel from just another book about Amanda Knox to a book about all that isn’t Amanda Knox.

Cartwheel on’

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