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Eat the Document

3.61  ·  Rating Details ·  1,980 Ratings  ·  308 Reviews
Dana Spiotta, whom Michiko Kakutani called "wonderfully observant and wonderfully gifted...with an uncanny feel for the absurdities and sadness of contemporary life" (The New York Times), has written a bold and moving novel about a fugitive radical from the 1970s who has lived in hiding for twenty-five years. Eat the Document is a hugely compelling story of activism, sacri ...more
Kindle Edition, 304 pages
Published (first published 2006)
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Aug 15, 2011 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ian "Marvin" Grayejoy

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
Brien Palmer
May 31, 2007 Brien Palmer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Justin Evans
Dec 01, 2014 Justin Evans rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 22, 2011 Edan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is worth it for the word "unstoppingly"--God, that adverb made me cry it was so beautiful, its placement so perfect.
Jan 06, 2008 Christy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Adam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Steev Hise
Aug 19, 2011 Steev Hise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, novels, fun
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
Jan 22, 2014 TinHouseBooks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 21, 2017 Sian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
New favourite author. This book is so perfect.
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
Alysson Oliveira
Mar 21, 2016 Alysson Oliveira rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, reviewed
O romance EAT THE DOCUMENT, da americana Dana Spiotta, é uma investigação sobre dois momentos da contracultura de seu pais: no começo dos anos de 1970 (a ressaca da década anterior) e no final dos 1990 (o refluxo do neoliberalismo dos anos de 1980). Sua heroína é uma moça que em 1972 muda de identidade (uma estratégia típica de personagens americanos, desde seus fundadores, passando por Gatsby). Pouco sabemos sobre ela quando a narrativa começa – apenas que precisa se reinventar depois de uma aç ...more
May 05, 2015 Laurel-Rain 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
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
Jan 07, 2010 Dan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
John Norman
Jun 08, 2014 John Norman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 09, 2016 Brad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Melissa Mcdonald
Dec 03, 2012 Melissa Mcdonald marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
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 Liz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Edmole rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Sep 08, 2016 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-books
I appreciate the effort the author puts into her characters in all of her works. This story in particular pulls in themes of resistance and materialism, of war and protest, and of identity and relationships, all of which I find thoroughly engaging. I don't have words this how much I enjoyed this book, but at one point while reading, I remember having thought that my bones were reaching to attach to the book so that I would be physically unable to put it down. I don't remember wanting and choosin ...more
Aug 13, 2007 Shiri rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I borrowed this book from my roommate, and she told me that while it was really good, it wasn't as good as it could be. I enjoyed it and found the pace especially to be fascinating. But, by the time I got to the end, my roommate was right. A really good book, but there was a small something missing. It does, however, keep coming back on me, popping up at random moments, which is always a good sign.
Ayelet Waldman
I never expected to love this book as much as I did.
Natalie Bakopoulos
Jun 21, 2007 Natalie Bakopoulos added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Gus!
Shelves: recentlyread
Oh boy, I swallowed this book whole, in just about one sitting. Loved it. Such smart, smart writing.

And, what a cover, no?
May 04, 2008 Cherie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
DNF Although there was a very promising start, I was lost and unengaged as you enter these characters unrelated to the original plot.
Charlie Smith
Jun 22, 2017 Charlie Smith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Entire review can be found at

Mary Whittaker, a 1970s radical, goes underground after a protest action results in murder. She becomes Louise, and it is years later when she is widowed, raising her fifteen year old son alone, that her identity is revealed --- in ways I won't give away here. Her co-murderer and lover, Bobby, also goes underground, and each live lives of sorrowful solitude, unable to be completely who they were or who they have become, carryi
Feb 27, 2017 Amy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club-reads
This book follows a woman underground. She and some other "activists" are responsible for a bombing that results in a death. The reader follows her through her disappearance and reemergence as someone new, her mistakes and restarts, and how she is constantly defined by this huge secret that she can't reveal to anyone. There are several interesting stories interwoven in this book, with characters that are either part of her past or part of her present. The chapters flash back and forth in time an ...more
Jun 29, 2017 Angela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Imagine you're a mother with a secret. One well kept from the child you are raising. It's a terrible mistake you made years ago. You thought it would change the world, but instead, it only put you in hiding. Are you willing to take the trip, read this book, to find out what she did, who she affected, and it's worth?
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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
More about Dana Spiotta...

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“I wondered if my life was going to be one immersion after another, a great march of shallow, unpopular popular culture infatuations that don't really last and don't really mean anything. Sometimes I even think maybe my deepest obsessions are just random manifestations of my loneliness or isolation. Maybe I infuse ordinary experience with a kind of sacred aura to mitigate the spiritual vapidity of my, it is beautiful to be enraptured. To be enthralled by something, anything. And it isn't random. It speaks to you for a reason. If you wanted to, you could look at it that way, and you might find you aren't wasting your life. You are discovering things about yourself and the world, even if it is just what you find beautiful, right now, this second.” 10 likes
“Incidentally, if you have never stalked someone close to you, I highly recommend it. Check out how it tranforms them. How other they become, and how infinitely necessary and justified the stalking becomes when you realize how little you know about them, how mysterious every aspect of them seems with an at a distance but close examiniation.” 5 likes
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