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Eat the Document

Preposterously, I can't begin to write about Dana Spiotta's powerful novel without knowing how old she is. She'd have to be my age, or at least well over fifty, to have been around in the early Seventies, when the novel's principal characters engage in radical violence that forces them to go underground. But she doesn't look that old, and one would have to ask where she has been all this time. Her first novel, Lightning Field, appeared in 2001 (I look forward to reading it soon). According to her site, she runs a restaurant with her husband in the ground floor of their home, somewhere upstate. She's almost as mysterious as her ecoterrorists.

Perhaps I ought to begin by saying that I read Eat the Document in one day. I was pulled along by the brilliantly-crafted story lines even as I was fascinated by the brilliant craft. I was impressed by the author's ability to cue readers to significant connections before she spells them out; it's very flattering to the reader. The writing, for the most part, is hushed, tuned to remote disturbances. This is the flatness of the slab of cliff. The suspense is moral: Eat the Document is harrowing, haunted by an act of violence that is not described until the end of the novel is within view. On top of everything else, there is the ammonia-stab of a very confused time.

The novel opens in a motel room in 1972. Mary is on the run; the run, for her, has just started. As if it were too bright to look back upon, the event from which she is running ...

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