Dana Spiotta ( A National Book Award Finalist) will be giving a reading at Amrose + Sable Gallery on Tuesday, March 13th at 7pm. Wine and Hors D’ Oeuvres will be served . The novel EAT THE DOCUMENT (now in paperback) will be for sale by The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza.
Elizabeth Dubben, Director
Amrose + Sable Gallery
306 Hudson Ave
Albany, NY 12210
Here’s the NYTimes review of the book:
A Radical on the Run, Determined to Escape the Past
By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
Published: February 3, 2006 The New York Times
The prospect of reinventing oneself tabula rasa has always been one of America’s foundation myths. Whether it was the earliest colonists leaving Europe to begin new lives in the New World or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby trying to inhabit his own platonic conception of himself, Americans have long embraced the possibility of remaking their lives: moving West with the frontier to start over or moving East to the big city to erase their provincial roots; shucking off familial legacies and changing their names, their looks, their histories.
In her stunning new novel, Dana Spiotta tackles this perennial theme with ingenuity, inventiveness and élan. Her heroine is a Vietnam-era radical who has gone underground after a bombing plot that’s gone awry — think of a fictional Kathy Boudin or Cathy Wilkerson. She’s someone who has quite literally tried to jettison the past and forge a new identity for herself: the former Mary Whittaker becomes Caroline Sherman, who eventually becomes Louise Barrot — an invented person with the name of a dead infant, a woman who wants to believe that her “chronically forgettable” looks and whispery demeanor will make her invisible.
After years on the lam, she tries to disappear into the anonymous tracts of suburbia, where she raises a teenage son, but finds herself overcome by a terminal sense of loneliness — a despair that comes from having lived a succession of lies, “from not being truly known by anyone.” She begins to contemplate turning herself in.
By cutting back and forth between Mary’s story and the stories of her son, Jason; her former lover and fellow fugitive, Bobby; and Bobby’s best friend, Henry, Ms. Spiotta has constructed a glittering collage of a book — a book that possesses the staccato ferocity of a Joan essay and the historical resonance and razzle-dazzle language of a Don DeLillo novel. Although some of her people’s tales are less engaging than others — Henry’s hallucinations about Agent Orange and napalm, in particular, seem forced and contrived — they come together to provide a symphonic portrait of three decades of American life, an era bookended by the radicalism of the Weather Underground and the anarchist protests of the millennium, by the leftist manifestos of the 1960’s and the 90’s willful commodification of the counterculture.
As she demonstrated in her impressive debut novel in 2001 Lightning Field, 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. She proves as adept at channeling Jason’s slacker musings about the Beach Boys, bootleg recordings and the consolations of nostalgia as she is at depicting Bobby’s weary, faintly ironic meditations about the morality of political protest.
She captures the uneasy mixture of idealism and self-dramatization that animated the antiwar movement of the 1970’s and the myriad ways in which the politics, music, technology and language of that era informed the more cynical culture of the 90’s. She looks at how the twinned ideas of freedom and rebellion have threaded their way through recent American history, and how they have resulted in liberation, yes, but also in rootlessness and disconnection.
The two most compelling storylines in “Eat the Document” (the title comes from a documentary about Bob Dylan, chronicling his transformation from acoustic folk singer to rock ‘n’ roll musician) deal with Mary’s quest to begin a new life as Caroline a k a Louise and Jason’s quest to uncover the truth of his mother’s mysterious life.
The first is a story about burying the past: Mary moves from Oregon to upstate New York to California, making new friends and then cutting them off when they grow suspicious, fictionalizing her parents’ deaths and trying in vain to extinguish her love for Bobby.
“She was quite certain that you could change your past, change the facts, by will alone,” Ms. Spiotta writes. “Only memory makes it real. So eliminate the memory. And if it was also true that there were occasions when she couldn’t control where her mind went — a dream, a cold sweat at an unexpected moment, an odor that would suddenly betray her — time would improve it. Time lessens everything — the good things you desperately want to remember, and the awful things you need to forget.”
The second is a story about uncovering the past that begins with Jason’s wondering about his mother’s peculiar detachment, her reluctance to talk about her family and her childhood, her being “so creepily guarded and cryptic in odd, sunny ways.” Her revelation that she once met one of the Beach Boys and her appearance in an obscure underground film will spur his suspicions and will lead him closer to the secret she has kept for some 25 years.
Upon these two dovetailing storylines, Ms. Spiotta erects an elliptical narrative filled with musical leitmotifs and searing, strobe-lighted images of contemporary life — a narrative that immerses us, headfirst, in the chaos and incongruities of the American scene while goading us into a melancholy contemplation of the country’s penchant for discarding the past.