The Short Version: Lily Hayes is your typical American foreign exchange student – young, pretty, smart, well-meaning if completely oblivious. When her roommate ends up dead and she’s arrested for the murder, that innocence disappears fast. This is the story of her time in Buenos Aires – and the stories of those orbiting this case, including her erstwhile boyfriend, the ruthless prosecutor, and her confused family.
The Review: An opening authorial note makes it clear that this book was inspired by the Amanda Knox case but should not be read as judgement or even fictionalization thereof. Even still, I struggled to picture them in South America for large swaths of the novel – it was Italy. So much of this is “different” from the Knox case but it’s altogether too similar to really be separated this close to the event. And I’m saying this as a person who didn’t really follow that case – although a simple read of the Wikipedia article makes it obvious that Ms. DuBois wasn’t just loosely inspired by but rather lifted heavily from the real life events surrounding that particular affair.
And so what, then, does that make this novel? There are things changed, of course – beyond names and locations, the “boyfriend” is of a much more nebulous definition in that area and there are more questions and open-ended moments relating to Lily’s guilt/innocence. But (as the final lines indicated, to me at least) this is little more than the makings of an alternate universe version of a story – not an independent, new tale.
I found myself frustrated in an interesting way during this novel. DuBois manages to create characters who are, almost to a one, unlikeable. I’d say the most likable character for me was Sebastien, the boyfriend – and he’s kind of a pretentious, out-of-touch git. Lily is just a completely naive idiot, her parents seem so two-dimensionally concerned with the death of their oldest daughter at 2 years old that they could blow away, her sister is the put-upon younger sibling, and the prosecutor is one of those “well-meaning” people who’re actually so blind and so myopic that they will do what’s wrong because they’re so convinced it’s right. And while I can’t exactly say I know anyone like Eduardo (said prosecutor), I do know people like Lily, Anna, and their parents. I think that’s what frustrated me so much about this book: I wanted these characters to act intelligently, because so often in literature characters are heightened in one way or another (capital-D Dumb or capital-S Smart) without the author necessarily meaning to do so; it just comes with the territory. But here, DuBois does a pretty great job at making these characters so annoyingly realistic – and I know I said the parents are two-dimensional but there are people, in this world, who are two-dimensional even as they live and breathe in 4-D – that I felt oppressed. Probably didn’t help that I was reading the last pages on a train headed into midtown Manhattan, a place I hate going on the best of days.
But the idea that you could be ARRESTED for something and not demand a lawyer is mind-boggling. The idea that the prosecutor would get so wrapped up in one particular lead that he IGNORES the other evidence until weeks later when the owner of said evidence suddenly shows up with a convenient story implicating both himself and the girl… this actually pissed me off. Not because it wasn’t realistic but because things like that happen. And to be in someone’s mind as they make these choices was a little horrifying. Eduardo is not a good attorney – or, rather, he is a great one. Funny how that depends on where you’re looking from, you know?
But here is where we hit the real flaw with this book: there’s nothing to believe. Ms. DuBois was perhaps failed by her source material – after all, the Knox case is still lacking in a final resolution – but perhaps it was just a failure of this story in general. The narrative bounces back and forth in time, showing us the events leading up to the night of the murder – and then the days following Lily’s arrest. But we never see the actual incident itself. Now, I’m fine with that: some things are better left to the imagination. But DuBois goes too far in the “being mysterious” department and we’re left instead frustratedly never being able to put together any sort of coherent narrative at all. There are too many gaps, too many holes, too many things that don’t make sense unless a prosecutor shapes them into a narrative – and while that’s all well and good in the courtroom, it makes for frustrating reading material.
Rating: 3 out of 5. So many of my issues with this book stem from issues that I have with the real-life implications of the narrative. The fact that Toledo shows up and his testimony is taken basically as gospel despite there being no evidence to prove a word he says is either true or false… the insistence on the cartwheel… the phone-hacking and what-not to reveal Lily’s emails and Facebook messages and texts… I’m more bothered by the fact that these things can (and most likely do) all happen. And so I have to give Ms. DuBois credit for capturing the frustrating realities of 21st Century Life. But I also feel like the book just never really came together. The ending – there are several of them, actually, not unlike the final Lord of the Rings film – comes as something of a rush and the final lines are ridiculously over-the-top “mysterious” to the point of being a cop-out. Mystery can only take you so far – there needs to be substance underneath all the haze and this book just doesn’t have enough of that substance.