75 Books: Eat the Document

I’m still woefully behind on logging my 75 Books Challenge. I hope to get to the ten or so books I’ve read in recent weeks as soon as I can. But in the meantime, to offer some positive thoughts to combat the sad news over the weekend, I must report an astonishing development! I think I may have read the best book of 2006 (so far).

Book #? was Dana Spiotta‘s Eat the Document. It’s a stunning novel: taut, deeply perceptive, mysterious, mildly satirical, and wistful. I read it in one sitting. I could not stop. Imagine if Don DeLillo actually wrote from the gut again and rediscovered that sense of playfulness he lost after Underworld and you have perhaps one fifth of what makes Spiotta such a fine novelist. Eat the Document tells the tale of a radical who committed some unknown crime in 1972 and contrasts her disappearance against a group of activists and bohemians in the late 1990s. There are fantastic parallels and even the playful hint of a nuanced allegory between the two ages, as we encounter a mysterious man named Nash who works in a bookstore and lives off the grid, while organizing meetings for extremely eccentric and, in some cases, outright nutball political movements (complete with crazed acronyms), the 1972 activist’s son, who has a great affinity for the Beach Boys, and a number of young ragtag activists who may or may not be true to their ideals.

Without coming across as didactic, Spiotta has important and often provocative things to say about the nature of political protest. At what personal cost does one rage against the machine? Surely, dissent is needed. But is a hard-fought battle for a tiny advancement truly worth it?

One of this novel’s delights is how Spiotta keeps you guessing about how she’s going to tie everything together. Sure enough, it all lines up as neatly as a Buckminster Fuller dome at the end, but Spiotta is good enough to leave lingering questions that will likely keep you up late and perhaps typing in theories on Internet discussion forums.

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