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American Subversive: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 20, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Goodwillie's debut novel (after his memoir, Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time), an incisive depiction of radicalism's seductive roots, the central characters are a good girl gone bad and a would-be journalist turned blogger who wants to do good. Paige Roderick, laid off from her think tank job and devastated by the Iraq War death of her beloved brother, is an easy mark for a shadowy cabal of home-grown terrorists who recruit her from the ranks of weekend environmental warriors. Separately, Aidan Cole, a failed journalism student turned Manhattan gossip blogger, is drawn into her radical orbit (and into a romance) by a phantom from America's radical past: a former member of the Weather Underground. Part political thriller and part on-the-run love story, Goodwillie's glimpse of the lapsed idealism that might be fueling America's subversive underground falls somewhere between Bret Easton Ellis's Glamorama and John Updike's Terrorist. The mix of mocking the jaded hip—the Gawker-like blogging empire that Aidan works for serves as a frequent punching bag—and exploring cultural and social unrest results in a comic and unsettling two-pronged dissection of a subset of contemporary America. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

A bomb, a New York City blogger, and a beautiful homegrown terrorist form the unholy trinity that powers this fresh, knowing look at the American cultural and political landscape. In the year 2010, a bomb detonates in Barneys—it was set off on the wrong floor and was supposed to destroy the headquarters of a secretive company that makes billions parlaying the influence of its board members to obtain lucrative oil deals. Then blogger Aidan Cole receives a photo of a glamorous young woman who is identified as the person who planted the bomb. Aidan, a jaded hipster, has finally found a hard news story worth pursuing, but when he tracks the radical to her hiding place, he finds they have more in common than he ever imagined. The well of their mutual disillusionment runs deep, for she has lost a brother to a senseless war and he has lost faith in the rewards of a career-driven life. In this thriller-cum-political-manifesto, Goodwillie provides an unnerving, completely credible portrait of the roots of domestic terrorism and the frequently soulless quality of modern American life. --Joanne Wilkinson

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1 edition (April 20, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439157057
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439157053
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,555,355 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Goodwillie is the author of the acclaimed novel AMERICAN SUBVERSIVE (Scribner). Hailed as "genuinely thrilling" by The New Yorker, and "a triumphant work of fiction" by the AP, it was a New York Times Notable Book of 2010, and a Vanity Fair and Publisher's Weekly top ten Spring debut. He is also the author of the memoir SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME (Algonquin), for which he was named one of the "Best New Writers of 2006″ by members of the PEN American Center. Goodwillie writes about books for The New York Times and The Daily Beast, and his fiction and nonfiction have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, including New York, Popular Science, Men's Health, Black Book, The New York Observer, and The New York Post. He has played professional baseball, worked as a private investigator, and been an expert at Sotheby's auction house. A graduate of Kenyon College, he lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Sarah on April 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover
A bombing, a beautiful terrorist, a mysterious note: these are the sparks that ignite David Goodwillie's second book and first novel, "American Subversive." It's a glib thriller with unexpected gems buried within its well-turned sentences, a book that's quickly devoured but that lingers on the palate.

The novel deals with domestic terrorism, and the book's plot is lent chilling plausibility by the current political climate. After a bombing in Manhattan, gossip blogger Aidan receives an email with a photo of a beautiful woman with the caption, "This is Paige Roderick. She is the one responsible." His curiosity quickly draws him into Paige's world, and together their narratives make up an engrossing story that explores the world of the radical underground and those who inhabit it. The book is meticulously researched and in part based on the actions of the radical group the Weather Underground, which lends the story an eerie realism.

The voices of Aidan and Paige are distinct and well-written. The split narrative is handled deftly and is never confusing, and the prose is engaging, if a bit distant at times - even the sympathetic, fascinating Paige is at times unreachable. That said, Goodwillie has accomplished the balancing act so well that it's impossible to decide which one of them is the protagonist. The author tells the story of those who care too much and those who don't care at all, but doesn't average the two into a happy and potentially meaningless ending. These characters may be fictions, but they are no caricatured martyrs. This is the beauty of the book: we are shown both extremes, apathy and fanaticism, but we are never told which is right, nor are we thrown into a rhetorical firefight. This is a story about people, not politics.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By M. Schembari on April 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
As you might expect from a political thriller, American Subversive is fast paced, gripping and a serious page turner. Now, I'm not a thriller kind of girl but this book is un-freaking-believable. Seriously. The concept is so timely (blogging and terrorism) and I actually found it easy to relate to the main characters (Goodwillie writes from the perspective of a woman - how cool is that?).

The relationship between said characters (two narrators: blogger and terrorist) is complicated but innocent, with intertwining facets you find yourself constantly thinking about long after the final page.

Aidan, failed journalism student turned gossip blogger on a site that eerily resembles Gawker, is both completely unlikeable (but with good intentions) and the kind of protagonist you root for from beginning to end. Paige, a very sad but very determined eco-terrorist is responsible for turning 2010 Manhattan into chaos. It's horribly familiar to those of us who lived through 9/11, which makes it a relevant and necessary read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
American Subversive is a book about belief turned inside-out. It's an intelligent and literary thriller, a thought-provoking peek into America's dark soul, and a veritable page turner. It's also the debut book for David Goodwillie, an author who is up to the task of unearthing the country's seductive roots.

The dual protagonists/narrators are Aidan Cole, a member of the chattering class, who blogs for Roorback, ("a roorback is a defamatory falsehood published for political effect") and Paige Roderick, an attractive idealist who is involved in an act of domestic terrorism at the midtown Manhattan location of Barney's. One late night, at a glitterati party following this act, Aidan checks his email to view an image of a woman crossing Madison Avenue (the site of the bombing) with the words, "This is Paige Roderick. She's the one responsible."

But Goodwillie is too good to settle for a "who-done-it" thriller. He delves deeply into his characters to reveal two alienated and unmoored thirty-somethings who are dealing with a profound disillusionment based on divorce, death, a country that lost its way, and friendships that easily turn into betrayals.

Paige turns to domestic radicalism after the wasteful death of her brother Bobby in Iraq. She says,"Do you really want to know my worldview? Because it's pretty bleak these days. Everything I once saw as a problem with others -- the numbness, the detachment, the disillusionment that came with being American -- everything I once sought to fix...I'm coming now to feel myself." And Aidan? His transformation is less organic.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on January 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Through a set of circumstances too convoluted to bore you with, I happen to have been asked to make some editorial comments on the manuscript that became Mr. Goodwillie's first book. It was a memoir and while it was well enough written, the big thing that I recommended was that he not waste his talents on a form that, while dominating the best-seller lists at the time, is fundamentally dishonest. I doubt the comments ever made it back to him and his memoir was published to some acclaim, though I was intrigued to discover a USA Today story where his book was contrasted with James Frey's Milion Little Pieces, the thoroughly falsified disaster that helped put an end to the craze. But this second book from Mr. Goodwillie is indeed a novel and a terrific one at that.

In alternating chapters a young blogger in Manhattan, Aidan Cole, and the subversive of the title, Paige Roderick, describe how they drifted together and onto the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List. Paige was recruited out of Beltway think-tank politics by an anti-corporate terror cell after her brother was killed in Iraq. As the book opens, she and her comrades have just blown up Barney's headquarters in NYC. When an anonymous informant e-mails Aidan a photograph of Paige leaving the scene he becomes obsessed with finding her.

His determination and the manner in which he becomes ever more involved are very much out of character. After all, as he says at one point, the epigraph of his generation ought to be: "We never believed in anything." Yet he is eventually driven by a belief that he can help Paige and that together they can stop her increasingly radical compatriots. Likewise, Paige only become truly passionate once she turns to stopping the bombings.
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