Please post any questions you would like to ask Jennifer DuBois in this topic by Monday 7th Oct. They will be sent to her to answer and her answers will be posted back into here. Thank you!
BookBrowse Book Talk beta
Join Date: 10/15/10
Join Date: 04/10/13
Katey was not well defined. Was that your intention? If so, why?
Lily is the only point of view character who ever really gets to know Katy, and Lily doesn’t get to know her that well. Lily’s initial attitude toward Katy is informed by her own insecurities; she assumes that anyone so neat and beautiful and studious must be boring or otherwise defective. But over the weeks, in fact, Katy winds up surprising Lily. Katy’s low-key pragmatism, which Lily finds so tedious at first, can sometimes yield observations that are shocking to her (as when Katy expresses the idea that Sebastien LeCompte might not be so original after all)—and by the end of Lily’s sections, she’s much more conflicted and curious about Katy than she was at the start.
One of Katy’s most distinctive qualities is her basic agnosticism about other people; she doesn’t automatically presume to understand the lives or intentions of those around her. This clashes with Lily’s way of moving through the world (as happens during one of their first scenes together, when Lily expresses disillusionment about the Carrizos and Katy points out that neither she nor Lily really knows them that well). Katy’s basic epistemological humility is something that none of the other characters tend to extend to each other: certainly not to Lily after she’s arrested, and not to Katy either (who, like Lily, begins to be viewed as nearly symbolic--of innocence, in her case--after the crime). So although I did very much wish to characterize Katy specifically in those scenes where she appears, I also wanted her to be a character who we never get a chance to know very well—I hoped she would feel like a real person who shows up briefly in your life, and who doesn’t seem less real even though you might not know them very well or very long.
This decision was also partly motivated by reasons of characterization (each of the four point of view characters are significantly defined by how they view somebody else: Andrew, Eduardo, and Sebastien are characterized by the way they view Lily, and Lily is characterized by the way she views Katy), and partly by reasons of plot (some of the things Lily doesn’t know about Katy are quite relevant to the possible reality of the crime). But fundamentally, my biggest hope for Katy in the book is that she would simultaneously be the character we don’t really know--as well as the only character who truly seems to believe that a state of ignorance about other people might actually be possible.
Join Date: 01/12/12
What about the Amanda Knox case touched you so much you felt compelled to write a book following the same general storyline as her life?
hat interested me about that case was the way that it seemed to inspire very divergent confident judgments, and the degree to which these judgments often seemed to be informed by broad issues of gender, class, anti-American resentment, American entitlement, etc. To this day, the discussion of Amanda Knox’s innocence or guilt seems to hinge significantly on what kind of symbol she is perceived to be rather than the actual facts of the case; she is more often spoken of as a kind of person than as a particular person. And that seemed to me to be really interesting territory to investigate in fiction; I wanted to explore a character who functions as a blank slate, a template onto which other people project all kinds of other feelings.
Join Date: 09/22/11
Instant messaging, boundaries be damned, seemed to play an important role in the story, yet one on one communication was stilted or not as easy. Was this intentional in the development of the novel?
I wasn't as interested in exploring the distinction between in-person communication and internet communication per se as much as document—and maybe gently lampoon--this strange sincerity/irony hybrid that I've noticed in our culture in recent years, and which I think is informed by the internet. Our addiction to irony is old news, of course, and has been extensively dissected in fiction. But I think in coming to recognize and understand our habit of irony, we also became so good at it—both identifying it and producing it—that it stopped serving as a mode of obfuscation. When you hear something verbally ironic—i.e., sarcastic—you just flip its meaning to arrive at what is really being said, and at this point, that process is basically automatic; we're so fluent in irony now that I don't think we even really hear it anymore. And maybe because of that, there seems to be a new tone cropping up, which you see especially on the internet. Particularly in blogs written and trafficked by younger people, I've noticed that articles about controversial issues tend to be written in a sort of sneering, knowing tone that isn't completely straightforward and yet isn't completely ironic, either.
This kind of tone manages to project an image of savviness while asserting nothing; you can read an article written in that tone and come away with no idea of what the writer actually thought about an issue, or what they would argue about it if pressed to do so (which makes it very different from satire). I think this might be especially common among internet writers because they have to work so quickly while living in constant fear of becoming the target of mass internet opprobrium; if nobody can pinpoint what you mean, then nobody can angrily disagree with you. All of which leads us to Sebastien.
Join Date: 01/12/12
Sebastien is probably the most unusual character in the book. Was he based on a real life person? What was the inspiration behind such a unique and odd character?
I haven't known anyone quite like Sebastien, but I think he's a very extreme instantiation of the sort of tonal tendencies I wrote about above. Sebastien is someone who - even more than most people - has had to hide in plain sight his entire life, and whose wounds have pushed him ever further into hiding. He's also a product of his generation, and so his mask takes the form of compulsive quasi-irony - which is, fundamentally, a kind of plausible deniability.
Join Date: 10/16/10
How much research went into the writing of Cartwheel and how did you choose which details to pick and which to leave out?
I traveled to Buenos Aires and then did follow-up research from home (in spite of my curmudgeonly comments above, I truly feel that without the internet I couldn't have written either Cartwheel or my first book, A Partial History of Lost Causes, which was set in Russia).
Buenos Aires itself serves a similar function to Lily Hayes in the novel (though to a lesser degree) - that is, it appears very differently to different people. It shifts most dramatically in Lily's perception as she moves through the stages of cultural acclimation - first finding the city enchanting, then repulsive, and then finally familiar.
For Andrew (and one would imagine, for Katy's parents even more so), Argentina is primarily the place where an awful thing happened to his family - he has trouble seeing it as a country where anyone would go on purpose. Eduardo sees the Buenos Aires of today alongside the Buenos Aires of the past, and elements of his personality emerge in his perception of the changes (like the motorcycles) as well as the consistencies (like the students). And Sebastien barely perceives the city at all, because he barely perceives anything beyond his own mind; Argentina is a prison for him, but anywhere else would probably be, too. Anais Nin said that we see things not as they are, but as we are. I see Cartwheel as trying to explore that phenomenon; I wasn't trying to characterize Buenos Aires as much as I was trying to characterize the different people who are looking at it.
Join Date: 06/17/13
What precipitated Lily's release from prison?
The actual case against Lily is pretty marginal; the suspicion swirling around her stems mostly from circumstantial evidence (opportunity, her initial dislike of Katy), various evasions that she and Sebastien engage in (her lie about the marijuana compromising her reliability, his lie about her whereabouts compromising his), and these little damning moments (like the Cartwheel) that seem to suggest something odd about her personality without actually having any bearing on the murder specifically. There's no decisive physical evidence against her, and Ignacio Toledo's testimony is complicated by the fact that he has at least as much motivation to lie as she does. So I imagine Lily was released because the case was appealed, and brought before a panel of instructor judges (and maybe even presented by a prosecutor) who simply saw it differently.
Join Date: 03/22/12
As you know, Amanda Knox's ordeal is not over, do you anticipate a sequel?
No. Cartwheel isn't about Amanda Knox, it's about the broad intellectual and moral questions that the Amanda Knox case raised for me personally--and I think the book covered the time period when those questions were most at play in the characters' lives.
Join Date: 12/22/11
Why did you choose Buenos Aires as the setting for the story?
I wanted to thread the setting into the plot in a few key ways. Eduardo's commitment to justice and truth-seeking were shaped by his coming of age during the Dirty War; the differences between Argentina and the U.S.'s legal systems leave Lily somewhat adrift (though her biggest mistake - speaking to Eduardo without a lawyer - would have been problematic at home, too). But at the same time, I see the book as telling a story that could happen anywhere; my initial curiosity was about exploring how a person might animate contradictory judgments in the people around her, and the precise setting came a bit later in my thinking about the novel. I settled on Buenos Aires for a few reasons. On a basic level, it's a place where a young American student might study abroad, where she might feel more confident about her language skills than she should be, and where she might be unaware of certain features of the legal system.
Buenos Aires is also a city a young person could fall in love with, and - like many great cities - it has darker edges that might not be immediately visible. I also thought setting the book in a Catholic country could provide an interesting dimension to the exploration of culture, gender and sexuality, and that setting the book in a country with which the US has such troubled recent history could provide an interesting dimension to the exploration of American entitlement and anti-American resentment. Ultimately, though, Cartwheel isn't trying to say something specific about Argentina as much as it's trying to explore something universal about people and perception.
Join Date: 06/15/11
Join Date: 07/18/11
RE: Questions for the Author...
The novel made me think a lot about how we judge others and how they judge us. I hope to have this novel become one that my book group will read to discuss the ways we see each other and the world around us. Only a well-written novel can cause readers to see their world in new ways.
"The reader lives a 1000 lives before he dies. The [person] who never reads lives only one."
George R.R. Martin.
Join Date: 01/12/12
RE: Questions for the Author...
I feel the same way, sandrah. It also made me realize how little we really know and understand others. We may believe we know the motivations of others but there's no way we can without walking in that person's shoes. The theme of this book is such an important one, perhaps one of the most important in understanding people and how they interact.
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