three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
22-May-June-2006
By: 
Dana Spiotta
user_rating: 
0

A-EatDocumentIn 1972, a woman (alternately named Mary, Freya, Caroline, and Louise) commits an act of domestic terrorism. When things go wrong, she separates from her antiwar activist lover, Bobby (Nash), abandons her identity, and flees to the West Coast. Hiding in Seattle 25 years later, Caroline is a drugged-out widow with a teenage son, Jason. Coincidentally, Nash runs a local left-wing bookstore for his Vietnam vet friend Henry. But in the aftermath of 1970s radicalism, Caroline’s and Nash’s pasts start to catch up with them, and they find they can never escape their secret lives of civil disobedience.
Scribner. 290 pages. $24. ISBN: 0743272986

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"This terrific novel, which reads like a diary or a thriller, advances wavelike through snapshots, fast forwards, and jump-cuts. … There’s no skimping on inner life, and no one is reduced to a case history." Laurie Stone

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[The novel] possesses the staccato ferocity of a Joan Didion essay and the historical resonance and razzle-dazzle language of a Don DeLillo novel. … Ms. Spiotta has a keen ear and even keener eye for the absurdities and disjunctions of American life, and this novel showcases those gifts in spades." Michiko Kakutani

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Eat the Document is fragmentary, smart, and beautiful, and it brilliantly contrasts nascent and mature postmodernity through the lens of culture/counterculture. … Louise insists that any memory fades, that time erases everything; but no matter what Spiotta’s characters tell themselves, a dire sense of loss is everywhere in the novel." Sarah Cypher

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Spiotta has written a glorious sendup of contemporary social and ecological activists with all their preening idealism and absurdity—especially the intelligent-sounding nonsense people spew at one another, even as they rarely connect on any meaningful level." Julia Scheeres

Contra Costa Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Unfortunately, readers who are sympathetic toward the movement for peace and social justice that has somehow survived the past half-century won’t find much comfort here, either. … And yet, Spiotta’s description of the movement, like her characters, rings true." Peter Magnani

San Francisco Chronicle 1.5 of 5 Stars
"With Eat the Document, Spiotta clearly seeks to challenge, disturb, and—above all—educate our minds and consciences. … Unfortunately, in her search for greater substance, Spiotta seems to have mislaid that tongue-in-cheek humor that made the characters of Lightning Field such enjoyable companions." Amy Johnson

Critical Summary

Spiotta, whose debut novel Lightning Field (2001) garnered critical acclaim, has pleased some critics and disappointed others. With a title based on a documentary about Bob Dylan, the novel raises questions about identity, intent, and outcomes. Some reviewers praised Spiotta’s gift for delving deep into idealism and exploring the collective consequences of individual actions. Detractors cited an uneven storyline (the novel cuts back and forth between Mary’s past and present, and the stories of Jason, Bobby, and Henry), while admitting that Jason’s quest to learn the truth about his mother remained compelling. Too much focus on secondary characters and stilted language bothered others. At best, Eat the Document is a poignant portrait of three decades of American radicalism.