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29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Please don't let on that you knew me when...
Eat the Document is about hippie activists in hiding, yes, but it is also about longing and loss, identity and authenticity, and the inescapability of destiny. With astounding detail, Spiotta is equally rhapsodic on the fads and follies of two generations of countercultural rebels, but spares neither her sharp eye for hypocrisy, futility, and misplaced desires. All of...
Published on January 31, 2006 by Christine Healy

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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great premise but ultimately a let down.
I was very excited to read Dana Spiotta's 'EAT THE DOCUMENT' not only because the premise sounded great but also because of all the praise it had generated. Unfortunately this novel did not live up to my expectations at all. The first three fourths of the book was, in my opinion, nothing more than words on a page. It did not set the stage for the heart of the story nor...
Published on December 22, 2006 by DevJohn01


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29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Please don't let on that you knew me when..., January 31, 2006
Eat the Document is about hippie activists in hiding, yes, but it is also about longing and loss, identity and authenticity, and the inescapability of destiny. With astounding detail, Spiotta is equally rhapsodic on the fads and follies of two generations of countercultural rebels, but spares neither her sharp eye for hypocrisy, futility, and misplaced desires. All of this she accomplishes with searing wit, virtuosic joy in language, and ultimately, real sensitivity for lives lived on the run. A sweeping, stunning book, from a writer who is beyond smart and who is just hitting her stride. Masterful.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Document of Contemporary Culture, May 18, 2006
By 
Zachary A. Hanson "Jazzpunk" (Tallahassee, FL United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Dana Spiotta's novel is satisfying on so many levels. Like her predecessor Don DeLillo, Spiotta manages to create a story that is entertaining, deep, and bold all at once. Special kudos go to her for managing to pull off parallel narratives as seamlessly as she does. On a somewhat more subjective note, this is the ideal novel for anyone who is obsessed with the intersection of popular and underground culture, which is to say many of us.

Here's how it works: We see the stories of two generations of resistance culture, both the '60s and '70's hippies and the more punkish subculture of the late '90s. Spiotta, from my vantage, depicts both of these periods spot on, tho' Jason, the son of the fugitive Mary, might be a little more articulate than most any fifteen-year-old I've ever met. Regardless, his obsession with the music of his mother's generation rings true for a mid-adolescent intellectual. His paeans to the Beach Boys are especially compelling. Any fanatic will identify instantly with Jason's reverence for his heroes.

It is not only Jason who is too smart for his own good, it is the entire cast of teenagers who hang around Nash Davis's Prairie Fire bookstore, another delightfully-drawn aspect of _Eat the Document_. Miranda, a punker in her late teens who falls for the middle-aged radical Nash, is painted with true emotional depth, perhaps the best portrait of a countercultural woman of the '90s that I've read. She ends up being torn between Nash and the more conventional Josh, someone who is her own age, but who ends up co-opting his more radical impulses to work for "the man." Nash, on the other hand, never gives into the man. Then again, we might question whether he accomplishes anything at all, as tied into creating ludicrous resistance groups out of his bookshop as he is (a few of the humorous examples of the fun that Nash has with acronyms and organizational monikers: SAP [Strategic Aggravation Players and/or Satyagraha by Antinomic Praxis] and the Neo Tea-Dumpers Front).

For all the humor here (which by the way is not overdone--like so many other aspects of this book, the humor works in naturally), there are all sorts of wonderful philosophical issues being explored, placing Spiotta near the forefront of her postmodern peers. This book is all about living on borderlines, especially the borderline between popular culture and counterculture, a place that really takes maneuvering, as anyone who has truly experienced the counterculture knows. For all the desire to make new vistas for culture, one can't help but buy Starbucks here and there or like "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys, even though it is the quintessence of pop. To stick with the Beach Boys, they are the perfect figure for this book to explore, as they never completely lost their clean-cut aura, even as Dennis Wilson was hanging around the Manson family. Dana Spiotta mines this seeming anomaly forcefully and shows the humor, wisdom, and pathos that arises from two generations of outcasts trying to negotiate their place apart from (yet invariably in) a world driven by consumerism. From what I say in that last sentence, I hope you don't get the impression that this is a dry intellectual screed, because it is not. Spiotta has created that relatively rare wonder of prose that explores some of the most spiky of social issues while managing to keep the authorial voice warm throughout. This makes hers a document that not only our generation should read to get a sense of itself, but also generations to come. As highly recommended as contemporary prose comes.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Premise with a Few Flaws, January 14, 2007
Eat the Document is a story with a great premise: What happens twenty years down the road to those who are forced, through their own actions, to go underground and live lives very different than they might have? Spiotta takes two radical protestors from the early 1970s and follows them both immediately after a disastrous event and also into the 1990s, as they try to come to grips with who they are. How much does the past define us? Would we do the same things over again? Spiotta answers these questions well through the use of several intriguing characters, and she brings the tale full circle by the time the ride is over.

Mary Whitaker finds herself on the run and alone in the early 70s, separated forever from her love, Bobby Desoto, after the two plan a protest in what was supposed to be an empty house. Forced to change her name and her appearance, we follow Mary as she becomes someone else, a person who can never go home again, nor settle for long in one place. As the story unfolds, we meet her fifteen year old son, Jason, who is able to begin to piece together the mystery of his mother's life. Additionally, we follow the story of Nash, who runs a comic book store, and the neo-protestors of the 1990s; all of these plots come together until Mary is forced to make a decision about her life today.

Spiotta's tale is well thought out but sometimes a little too "out there" to feel realistic. While the events could happen as she suggests, the characters don't always make sense in some of their actions, and the dialogue is stilted at times. But overall this is a well-done novel, and thought-provoking to say the least. Overall I enjoyed this one, but I can't help but feel that something was missing; probably much the same feeling Mary experienced about her own life.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You'll recognize the thinly veiled facts in this ZINGER of a novel!, March 6, 2006
As soon as I read this one, I realized how closely it paralleled the real life tale of a woman who'd hidden in plain sight for many years, leading a life very different from her formerly radical lifestyle. Truth is stranger than fiction in some ways because this woman (ALice Metzinger) managed to stay hidden for about 20 years, her true identity a secret...until she was findally rediscovered and put on trial.

The main characters in this novel are also former radicals (Mary Whittaker and Bobby Desoto)fictional but very true to life, trying to live in suburbia while wrestling with their old beliefs and trying to reconcile them with the present. It isn't an easy task, especially considering what events have happened in their lives (that I'll leave you to discover for yourself) . Let's just say they definitely have to stay ahead of the law because of their former actions.

Flash forward many years and to a a new generation of activitists. This was the most fascinating part of the book to me, the contrast between the former hippies and the "new" idealists, the new revolutionaries, including Mary's own son. There are major differences between the two groups of "radicals' and readers will wonder who is really "walking the walk" and who is just spouting off about ideals. Is the new generation truly less committed or are they being seen from the now cynical, somehwat rueful viewpoint of their elders?

But this book's greatest strength (in my opinion) is the unflinching look at peope who were once so openly committed to a certain set of values and now sees their own children and others living their ideals so differently.

Yes, there are still activists...but how varied so many of them are! This is reality. This is history as it really is, moving, growing, changing...and often causing painful revelations. This is the sea change of young idealists (hippies, counterculture heros) who grow older and find themselves alienated, powerless and usurped by others. Or are they?

If you want a sentimentalized, idealized novel about the 60s and 70s and some of the people who lived through that period, this is NOT the book you want. But if you want to read about a struggle that seems all too real, reliving the past while trying to make sense of the present, then this book should fully engage you.

This book has some flaws so I can't give it a full 5 star review but it is so richly detailed that I would recommend that those who like books about the 70s take a look at it. It is resonant with imagery, dialogue and period details.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It Could Have Been Me, May 3, 2006
Maybe I was a year or two too young and a more peaceful peacenik, but how the characters in this compelling novel were caught up in the urge to fight back and the long term consequences of their actions seemed believable to me. Dana Spiotta brings us back to that time in the late 60's and early 70's that felt like real revolution was just around the corner. Time traveling backwards and forwards we get the story of Mary Whittaker and her radical filmmaker soulmate Bobby. Their protest actions went terribly wrong and they had to disappear into new (separate) identities back in the early seventies.

We meet Mary and her son Jason in late 90's Seattle. He's obsessed with the music of the Beach Boys and cyber-protest activities against the new new order (meet the new boss, same as the old boss?) while Mary drinks heavily and sleepwalks through an empty life. Of course her old radical lover Bobby will re-emerge and Jason's aching to fill in the gaps in his Mom's backstory will bear fruit, but it's the landscape of the characters' inner lives that propels "Eat the Document" forward.

Can music mean as much to today's adolescents as it did to us? When music, politics and altering one's consciousness were intertwined like vines atacking the flagpole of state. I think Ms. Spiotta understands that and Jason's Beach Boys obsession rather than the more obvious Seattle bands like Nirvana or Pearl Jam is well-placed irony as fewer bands seemed less interested in the tumult of their era than the Beach Boys.

The writing is lyrical and knowing and the obscure details of popular culture, such as the book's title reference to a little remembered unreleased Dylan film, resonate throughout. The whole thing drew me in from the start. It helped me to have been there, but read it no matter whether you lived through some of these times or not and you'll be glad you did.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great premise but ultimately a let down., December 22, 2006
By 
DevJohn01 (Somerset, NJ) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Eat the Document: A Novel (Paperback)
I was very excited to read Dana Spiotta's 'EAT THE DOCUMENT' not only because the premise sounded great but also because of all the praise it had generated. Unfortunately this novel did not live up to my expectations at all. The first three fourths of the book was, in my opinion, nothing more than words on a page. It did not set the stage for the heart of the story nor was it very interesting. So many times I considered putting the book down never to pick it up again, however, an unfinished book nags at me therefore I was compelled to complete it. Only the last hundred or so pages, where the focus was more on the main characters Mary Whittaker and Bobby Desoto, made the book at all redeemable. I would have loved a lot less of the pretentious social commentary and more of an in depth look into SAFE the 70's radical group that Mary and Bobby belonged to as well as a better look into Mary's life not only for the first few years after she went underground but in present day as well.

Although this was not the fast paced thriller about two fugitives separated not only by time but irreparable actions that I thought it was, I am glad that I finished the book because if I hadn't I would have missed the best part of the story. However, this book takes a lot of patience. If you are not into the history of the 70's radical movement and how it relates to today, this may not be the book for you.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good 70s flashback, June 24, 2006
By 
A wonderfully observant writer, Dana Spiotta has created a compelling narrative of the 70s and 90s radical movements - as seen through the eyes of a couple of its participants. 2 of the main characters (Mary and Bobby) are fugitives from the 70s - the result of an activist campaign that went bad and resulted in the death of an innocent victim. Unbeknownst to each other, they're living in Seattle, a haven for 90s radical activities. Working in a bookstore, Bobby/now Nash still hosts radical meetings, but in a sadly ineffective way - his organizing activities as well as the movements that result are more ironic than anything. Mary, on the other hand, has sleepwalked her way through life, cooking in restaurants, eventually maryring a loser (now dead), drinking or getting high every day - and eating wordless dinners with her teenaged son while they watch television.

This set-up allows for a nice contrast between the individuals and motivations between 70s and 90s radicalism. The former were motivated by true emotional and intellectual passion in their beliefs - and effectively sacrificed their lives for their beliefs. There is no passion in the latter- it's a movement infused with elements of irony and alienation, where people are more interested in dressing the part of a 70s radical, and reading obscure texts from that era - than they are in forcing change.

I enjoyed reading this novel, filled with wonderfully detailed observations on the two periods - although she may have gone a little overboard on the music details. Once I was finished reading, though, I found that there was not much resonance for me - which doesn't take away from the fact that it was a very good read. It does make me wonder what sort of staying power a novel which relies on hundreds of acutely interesting observations has.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A CUTTING EDGE COMEDY OF MANNERS ABOUT OLD REVOLUTIONARIES IN A NEW WORLD, March 6, 2010
This review is from: Eat the Document: A Novel (Paperback)
This novel succeeds as a novel both of manners and ideas. Along its course, we are offered a wry and piercing commentary on our postmodern world of slippery meaning and solipsistic pleasure. The skeleton of the plot is simple and classic: doomed lovers driven apart by their own actions, never to reunite. Bobbie DeSoto and Mary Whittaker, protesting the U.S.'s involvement in Viet Nam, plant a bomb in a chemical company executive's home and, by accident, kill a maid who is working there. They flee. They have to separate. They change their names and their hair color and living style and go underground. For thirty years. Switch to the present. The woman, named Louise now, has a son, Jason, who is fifteen. Jason is a pasty-faced couch potato. His chief pleasure in life is collecting and listening to alt vinyls from the 60s and 70s and he sneers at his mother's style of living. In another part of the town, a rootless and propertyless fiftyish man, Nash, runs a counter-culture bookstore. He's so softhearted that he doesn't bust the young people who are ripping off expensive books from his shop -he can't bring himself to act like a cop. Nash meets Miranda, eighteen, at one of the mock protest groups whose meetings take place after hours in his store. These groups, which he encourages, plan grandiose and protest demonstrations but never carry any off.

Back and forth, 1970 to 2000 and inbetween, the story goes. We see how much Mary and Nash (who is Bobbie) have given up to stay free ("a swift and steady decrease in possibilities"). On the run, in the seventies, Mary hides out in a women's collective. It's just as exclusivist as the world she has run way from. "Caroline [that's what she called herself then] knew she was onto something, she was learning how things get away from people. How gradually they what? Become the very thing they long to escape.... Why couldn't she have been a radical separatist, at the margins? How different would it have been if she had tried to save herself instead of the whole world? But that was what she was now -a movement of one. The most radical separatist of all. You are moved to save the world, and then you are reduced to organizing everything just to save yourself."

Near the end of the book, there is a savagely funny but sad passage. Nash and Miranda pick up a deck of "New Left" playing cards. The cards display pictures of 60s and 70s terrorists, including Bobbie DeSoto, and provide instructions for a game to play using them, things like:

Storm the Dean's Office:
Watch out -if you put the wrong cards together,
there is a sectarian meltdown.

The deck sells for $19.95. Anything can be packaged and sold for a profit, even old revolutionaries.

Everything works in this carefully wrought, elegant and sardonic comedy of manners.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazingly observant writer, May 22, 2006
By 
carey (new orleans) - See all my reviews
This book is an exploration of so many themes of modern life: Alienation, even from one's own identity, the loss of idealism, the rise of consumerism and what it means to fight back against society's norms. Spiotta's observations are eloquent, poignant and dead accurate.

In a roundabout way, this book is of a piece with Mary Gaitskill's newest book, "Veronica", only without Gaitskill's icy misanthropy.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I Ate It UP!!, March 19, 2006
By 
A. E. Smith "Alice Smith-Corona" (canajoharie, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
"Eat the Document" moved me on every level I read for -- aesthetic, cultural, personal, political. Spiotta nails several remarkable somethings about the generations flanking her own GenX experience that most older and younger writers miss. To this fifty-something with kids in their teens, her characters became more than real on the page -- they felt like actual parts of my life. I haven't been this impressed in a long time, or this grateful. To feel exceptional old things again, and new things for a first time, intimately -- yep, grateful.
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Eat the Document: A Novel
Eat the Document: A Novel by Dana Spiotta (Paperback - November 28, 2006)
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