Cartwheel begins with a note stating that while “the themes of this book were loosely inspired by the story of Amanda Knox,” it is its own story. There’s an argument to be made that the book is much more than “loosely inspired” by those events, not least because of its narrative focus. We know who Amanda Knox is—the alleged murderer—and many people view her imprisonment and conviction as unjust, even tragic. What many, of not most, of those people don’t know is the name of the young woman who is the real victim in all of this, the Englishwoman who lost her life, Meredith Kercher. The real tragedy, the death of a young woman, has been subsumed by the drama surrounding Amanda Knox.
This book has that same self-absorption about it. Lily, a young American, travels to Argentina for a semester abroad. She and her roommate Katy have a very superficial relationship that is representative of Lily’s relationship to just about everything and everybody. Lily, it seems, is a young woman who just doesn’t pay attention to much of anything. And as such, she’s not a particularly compelling central figure: she’s unlikeable, even to those who love her, and that makes the possibility of her being wrongly convicted of Katy’s murder much less suspenseful than it should be.
The Argentine prosecutor, Eduardo, is—of course—convinced of Lily’s guilt before he even really knows the facts of the case; so much so, in fact, that his questioning of the person implicated by DNA at the crime scene focuses on Lily’s involvement rather than the specifics of the murder. He doesn’t seem to care about the truth except as it fits into his preconceived narrative; ironically enough, this happens to be his primary criticism of others.
Lily’s family—divorced parents, sister—travel to Argentina, but because visits with Lily are limited, they spend more time in their heads than they do supporting Lily. Her parents are aware that they are belittling Katy’s death in their hysteria over Lily’s predicament, but having been through a previous family tragedy, this reaction is something they’ve long since learned to live with, which deadens its impact on the story.
As I was reading Cartwheel, I didn’t get the sense that I was reading something original. It drew on the Amanda Knox story to the extent that it was obvious what role each of the characters would play: the wrongly accused American, the murdered roommate, the boyfriend, the Other Suspect whose DNA is found at the crime scene but who cannot possibly have acted alone in committing the crime because everybody wants the American girl to be guilty. While there seems to be an underlying message about the nature of interpersonal relationships and the truth, it’s lost under the retelling of a story many of us already knew.
This book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
My rating: 3 stars