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Eat the Documentby Dana Spiotta
Synopses & Reviews
Dana Spiotta, whom Michiko Kakutani called "wonderfully observant and wonderfully gifted...with an uncanny feel for the absurdities and sadness of contemporary life" (New York Times), has written a bold and moving novel about a fugitive radical from the 1970s who has lived in hiding for twenty-five years. Eat the Document is a hugely compelling story of activism, sacrifice, and the cost of living a secret.
In the heyday of the 1970s underground, Bobby DeSoto and Mary Whittaker — passionate, idealistic, and in love — design a series of radical protests against the Vietnam War. When one action goes wrong, the course of their lives is forever changed. The two must erase their past, forge new identities, and never see each other again.
Now it is the 1990s. Mary lives in the suburbs with her fifteen-year-old son, who spends hours immersed in the music of his mother's generation. She has no idea where Bobby is, whether he is alive or dead.
Shifting between the protests in the 1970s and the consequences of those choices in the 1990s, Dana Spiotta deftly explores the connection between the two eras — their language, technology, music, and activism. Character-driven and brilliant, Eat the Document is an important and revelatory novel about the culture of rebellion, with particular resonance now.
"Lives in the aftermath of 1970s radicalism form the basis of Spiotta's follow-up to her debut, Lightning Field. We meet Mary Whittaker as she goes underground and tests out a series of new names for herself in a motel room. Flash forward to the 21st century, where Mary, now 'Caroline,' is a single mother whose teenage son, Jason, seems to have inherited her restlessness. (Jason checks into the narrative via his journal entries.) Mary's partner in subversion and in bed was Bobby DeSoto, who, now closing in on 50 and going by the name of Nash, runs a leftist bookstore called Prairie Fire for his friend Henry, a troubled Vietnam vet. The unspoken affection between Henry and Nash and the many nuances of their deep friendship, beautifully rendered by Spiotta, give the book a compelling core. A young woman named Miranda becomes the improbable object of Nash's skittish affection. And when Jason begins to discover bits of his mother's past, Mary begins to resurface — with possibly disastrous results. As plot lines entangle, Spiotta tightens the narrative and shortens the chapters, which doesn't really add tension or pace. The result is a very spare set of character studies not well-enough served by the resolution. A near miss." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"With only her second book Dana Spiotta has become, I think, a major American writer. The ironic connections she makes between the cultural divide of the early '70s and late '90s are chilling and delicious. This scary and often brilliant novel comes together beautifully in the end — there's an intense satisfaction of seeing everything link up so movingly and with such warmth, and yet Spiotta is the only female writer I know whose prose reminds me of the cool ambient poetry and steely precision of Don DeLillo, and Eat the Document is as darkly exact and thrilling as the political novels of Joan Didion." Bret Easton Ellis
"[A] wealth of detail and scintillating secondary characters, elucidating the vast gulf between the alternative cultures of the '70s and '90s, as well as the elements that bind them. Fiction as documentary, a coruscating, heartrending fable ofstruggle and loss." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] forthright and fascinating look at American counterculture at the end of the 20th century....This work is particularly smart about the ironies and contradictions of the modern protest movement, in which even anarchy can be appropriated and sold by capitalist culture." Library Journal
"I like the way Dana Spiotta tinges reality with a dazzling now-you-see-it, now-you-don't quality. She uses her prose like a strobe light to give you enough of a freeze-frame on what's happening to make you stop and wonder whether you might be implicated in this curious, perhaps dangerous dance." Ann Beattie
"Stunning... A symphonic portrait of three decades of American life." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Using the younger generation's fascination with 1970s pop culture to profound effect, Spiotta succinctly and dramatically sizes up today's chillingly cynical corporate kingdom, where resistance is medicated, appropriated, and commodified." Donna Seaman, Booklist
"Eat the Document is fragmentary, smart and beautiful, and it brilliantly contrasts nascent and mature postmodernity through the lens of culture/counterculture." Oregonian
"This terrific novel, which reads like a diary or a thriller, advances wavelike through snapshots, fast forwards and jump-cuts." Chicago Tribune
An ambitious and powerful story about idealism, passion, and sacrifice, Eat the Document shifts between the underground movement of the 1970s and the echoes and consequences of that movement in the1990s. A National Book Award finalist, Eat the Document is a riveting portrait of two eras and one of the most provocative and compelling novels of recent years.
In the 1970s, Bobby Desoto and Mary Whittaker — passionate, idealistic, and in love — design a series of radical protests against the Vietnam War. When one action goes wrong, the course of their lives is forever changed. The two must erase their past, forge new identities, and never see each other again.
Now it is the 1990s. Mary lives in the suburbs with her fifteen-year-old son, who spends hours immersed in the music of his mother's generation — and she has no idea whether Bobby is alive or dead.
An ambitious and powerful story about idealism, passion, and sacrifice, Eat the Document shifts between the underground movement of the 1970s and the echoes and consequences of that movement in the1990s. It is a riveting portrait of two eras and one of the most provocative and compelling novels of recent years.
About the Author
Spiotta grew up in California. She manages a restaurant in New York City.
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