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Eat the Document

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  2,489 ratings  ·  374 reviews
An ambitious and powerful story about idealism, passion, and sacrifice, Eat the Document shifts between the underground movement of the 1970s and the echoes and consequences of that movement in the 1990s. A National Book Award finalist, Eat the Document is a riveting portrait of two eras and one of the most provocative and compelling novels of recent years.
Paperback, 290 pages
Published November 28th 2006 by Scribner (first published 2006)
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Jessamyn My understanding is that they knew the maid was there (that was how they were planning to get in) but presumed they could get her to go outside or tha…moreMy understanding is that they knew the maid was there (that was how they were planning to get in) but presumed they could get her to go outside or that she would leave before the bomb was set to go off.(less)

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Violet wells
Oct 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 21st-century
If you garnered your notion of the USA solely from literature you'd probably end up thinking anti-establishment terrorism was a widespread phenomenon. You might even feel Edgar Hoover wasn't such a nutjob as he appears. The other novel I'm currently reading City on Fire takes up this theme as have countless others I've read - books by DeLillo, Roth, Pynchon, Letham, Franzen spring immediately to mind. In fact, there are probably more novels on this theme than deal with the infinitely more influe ...more
Aug 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2011
"Eat the Document" has an interesting premise -- Mary and Bobby, two sixties radicals, are forced to separate and go underground when their scheme to blow up the summer home of an executive whose company produces napalm (and/or Agent Orange) goes awry, killing an innocent victim. Thirty years later, both are living (unbeknownst to one another) in the Seattle area. Mary, who now goes by the name Louise, is raising a 16-year old son, Jason. Bobby, now known as Nash, runs an alternative book store ...more
Justin Evans
Dec 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
This is a perfectly mediocre book, reasonably entertaining, but absolutely wonderful for understanding today's literature. Its successes and its flaws are all so widespread, it's as if I'd found the Platonic form of the Contemporary Novel. Which means this review got a little out of hand.


I periodically fall victim to an odd complex of ideas when choosing a book to read:

* that because a novel is supposed to be about important themes, it will treat them as if they were important.
* that a nove
Ian "Marvin" Graye

Remember 1966? Neither does Dana Spiotta, though/because it was the year she was born.

It was the year the Beach Boys released "Pet Sounds" and started the "Smile Sessions". It was the year Bob Dylan undertook a second tour with an electric band, which was filmed in D. A. Pennebaker's documentary "Eat the Document".

I'd probably recommend this novel to you if you had the boxset of the "Pet Sounds Sessions" or you'd spent half a lifetime trying to get a bootleg of the Dylan doco or you'd heard
Sep 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book is worth it for the word "unstoppingly"--God, that adverb made me cry it was so beautiful, its placement so perfect. ...more
DNF @ page 80-something.

I did try to persevere, but I’m really not in the mood to force myself to finish something I’m not enjoying.
Brien Palmer
May 31, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This one crept up on me as I read it. It starts simple, and then moves back and forth in time sketching out the narrative and the characters. One of the best examples of "show, don't tell" that I've ever come across. Maybe my interest in the old 60's romantic revolutionaries flavored my initial attraction, I don't know....But before I knew it, I was drawn in--caring about the characters. And it used just the right level of Mimento-like flashes to pull you along without losing you in excessive co ...more
Jan 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: failed revolutionaries?
I must be officially done with school because I am reading again! Well, not quite, but I did read this surprising novel today.

Although I was interested in reading Eat the Document, my expectations for it were not very high at the outset. I suppose I was expecting mainly a character study of an ex-radical and her teenage son. Instead, I was surprised to find that this book grapples with the pervasive moral ambivalence of American culture. Spiotta questions whether it is possible to oppose the sys
Jul 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book could be intimidating, addressing the cultural division between the 60’s and the 90’s, the failures of leftist protest in America, cultural obsession, and a critique of an overly medicated and corporatized society. A book handling that sounds bloated and unapproachable, but not in Spiotta’s hands, her vision is almost clinical but somehow remains human. She is despairing but understanding and her characters live and breathe and don’t exist to provide punch lines. Her understanding of r ...more
May 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Finally had the chance to read this older novel by Spiotta. It is fantastic. I don't see much point regurgitating plot for you, that's everywhere. I'll just say she hits on things that interest me like 60s/70s radicals, great music, bookstores, well drawn characters. It's very difficult for me to express what it is that I find so compelling about Dana Spiotta's writing, but here's a try. I love her characters' internal dialogues, contemplative without being pretentious, or if pretentious, then i ...more
Sep 20, 2007 rated it liked it
A quick two-day read; predictable yet well done. Nothing was wrong with the book: decent characters, an interesting premise (60's political activists gone underground after one of their protests turns deadly... good headline stuff!)Nothing was exceptionally great either... I read this in the airports, between planes and conferences... It was good enough for me to want to go back to immediately during downtimes but not good enough that I would hesitate to close the book and proceed with my day. I ...more
May 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
I bought a copy of Eat The Document after finishing Stone Arabia, also by Dana Spiotta. I guess now, I'll have to buy her other book, Lightning Fields, because they are both pretty excellent. Eat The Document is primarily the story of Mary Whittaker, alias Caroline, alias Louise Barrot, who turns into a fugitive after an act of protest against the violence of the Vietnam war ends badly. Starting with her love for Bobby, another tester, and chronicling her journey to eventually become a completel ...more
Steev Hise
Aug 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, fun, novels
This novel is really fun and enjoyable to read, but also quite moving and full of important questions of our time about society, rebellion, identity, commodification of subcultures, and more. I think Dana Spiotta should be considered right up there amongst the pantheon that includes such notables as Franzen, Lethem, Lipsyte, Foer, etc. You know, those dudes. Maybe it's because she's not a dude that she's not considered up there. At any rate every time I read something by those dudes, and many ot ...more
Stephen Gibson
Dec 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Abigail Tarttelin
Feb 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
I just love Dana Spiotta. I preferred Innocents & Others, but this was still good. Recommend reading in one sitting.
Jan 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-we-love
Victoria Savanh (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): I fell hard and fast for Dana Spiotta’s Eat the Document, a novel filled with radicalism, counterculture, pop music, identity, and self-invention, spanning the 1970s through late 90s. With its energetic execution, passages seem to vibrate, beautifully written yet precise. All the theoretical ideas aside, the characters are real. There’s this mess of lives intertwined, consequences, loss. The narrators alternate, but the most satisfying stor ...more
John Addiego
Oct 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary
This is a very touching, ingenious, and often hilarious study of idealism, protest, violence and obsession among the countercultures of two generations in the US built around a longtime fugitive's life in hiding. Loosely based on real events, Spiotta's novel takes us back and forth between the years of Nixon and the Weather Underground to the absurd plethora of antiestablishment movements and vandals of youthful Seattle in the late 1990s. Most of the focus of the iconoclasts we meet is on music ...more
Jan 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
I mulled over rating Eat the Document for a while. The story of a 1970s radical, Mary, who has to go underground, it bounces between her past and the late 90s where she lives as a single mom to a musiciphile son. The other major thread follows activists in Seattle in the 90s and how they shadow and mimic the movements of the 60s and 70s. I found the 90s sections less gripping than Mary's flight and struggles with what she had done and how she had to live as a result. But, Spiotta brings everythi ...more
Janie Cai
specific moments felt terribly relevant (i.e., josh at the end), and even prescient (though it was written in 2006 and set decades before that). at times it was a bit annoying — an obnoxious brand of cultural leftism permeates the narrative on the part of both the author and certain characters. still, the writing was observant, interesting, and engaging. tbh i will say that i have learned a lot of *facts* about the 70s and 90s (and the beach boys, too, of course).
Apr 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Engagingly written, interesting tale of two radicals forced to separate and go underground after a bombing kills an innocent person.
Sian Jaimi
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
New favourite author. This book is so perfect.
Mar 10, 2016 added it
Got this from the library so I couldn't write in it, which is frustrating-- will be on lookout for my own copy. What I did do, and will have to un-do, is un-turn all the corners on pages I turned down while reading it. This is my weird habit of marking places that move me, often for the language or the feeling. For instance, I wanted to mark this passage:

My friends--what few friends I have--are the kinds of guys who argue about whether the RCA single version of "Eight Miles High" is superior to
May 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The 1970s were a pivotal time for those in my generation, so I was drawn to "Eat the Document: A Novel." I participated in my share of protests against the Vietnam War and the tragedy of Kent State.

From the synopsis, we learn: "In the heyday of the 1970s underground, Bobby DeSoto and Mary Whittaker -- passionate, idealistic, and in love -- design a series of radical protests against the Vietnam War. When one action goes wrong, the course of their lives is forever changed. The two must erase thei
Jan 07, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010
this is a solid look at radical politics and counter-culture as they relate to pop music, exotic collecting habits, fashion and general contemporary geekiness. the book works best as an obsessive's look at history. i loved the parallels between mary - the weather underground-ish activist turned melancholic quasi-soccer mom - and jason, her precocious, beach-boys-obsessed son. spiotta does a nice job of documenting (no pun intended) the way the 60's have been archived in people's memories - as an ...more
Perhaps this novel was written just for me! I have read widely in recollections of the 1960s and in a lot of primary documents, and Spiotta skillfully weaves the enthusiasms and heartbreaks of the era. It's a better novel than her most recent one, Stone Arabia. Many obvious references are made (such as the title of the novel) but there are some more subtle ones, such as the title of an underground bookstore in our present, which is named Prairie Fire. The book is filled with allusions to pop mus ...more
Robert Blumenthal
Jan 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is my first experience with this author, and it was a positive one throughout. An intriguing story that has been done before (radical left wing revolutionaries plant bombs and have to go on the run), but it was original and fresh enough to satisfy. Mary and Bobby have taken part in an operation that sets off bombs in the homes of CEOs responsible for the manufacture of explosives during the Vietnam War. The books opens with Mary changing her name and deciding where to go to create a new lif ...more
Melissa Mcdonald
Dec 03, 2012 marked it as to-read
Shelves: fiction
Mary Whittaker and Bobby DeSoto have constructed lives for themselves like Popsicle-stick houses: brittle, unfurnished, painstakingly assembled but made to be snapped apart or abandoned in a moment. The main characters of Dana Spiotta's magnificent second novel, Eat the Document, they were once in love, but spend all but a few pages of the book intentionally distant and out of communication--fugitives after executing a political bombing in the '70s that went awry. Now, in the 1990s, Mary's 15-ye ...more
Jun 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
this was actually great. lots of interesting explorations of sincerity vs. irony/appropriation, certainty vs. uncertainty, authenticity vs. mediated experience, nostalgia vs. forgetting, etc etc etc. often actually through the narrative rather than just in conversation which is a plus -- I mean that's why you read novels rather than essays right? not quite often enough to bump it up to five stars but pretty damn often. but yes, some of the characters did sound a little bit too much like cultural ...more
Mar 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
I bought this for a pound from Oxfam. It is about what happens to two radicals after they take direct action against the Vietnam War and go into hiding, changing their identities on the way.

It's a very melancholy book, but the writing is full of zest. It reminded me of Douglas Coupland, but the characters were the story, not just vehicles for ideas.

In the book there is a moment where a piece of art made by one of the radicals makes us consider one of their enemies as a sad and crumpled victim.
Jun 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a fabulous novel that compares youth culture and activism now versus the late 1960's when war raged in Vietnam. There is a wealth of observations I found accurate and revealing. Spiotta is a gifted writer who is skilled at revealing truths in poetic language. She uses her ability as a novelist to impart important American history, the continuing (one hopes) struggle against corporate hegemony, through the life experiences of characters we care deeply about. As she did in the more recent ...more
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Scribner published Dana Spiotta’s first novel, Lightning Field, in 2001. The New York Times called it “the debut of a wonderfully gifted writer with an uncanny feel for the absurdities and sadnesses of contemporary life, and an unerring ear for how people talk and try to cope today.” It was a New York Times Notable Book of the year, and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the West.

Her second novel, E

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