Eat the Document alternates between the 1970’s and the 2000’s, as we follow Mary/Caroline/Louise, a former member of a Weather Underground-ish anti-war protest group whose botched attempt (in 1972) to blow up a building causes the group members to have to go into hiding. The story flips back and forth through time as we see Mary trying to shed her past and struggle with her present, changing her name several times along the way. We also follow her son Jason as he becomes suspicious of why his mother is so vague about certain things (“she has no baby pictures of herself,” he notes at one point). I liked these parts of the story, as Jason and his mother dance around each other, and as Jason gets closer and closer to the truth.
Interspersed with these chapters are ones about Mary’s co-conspirator (and former lover) Bobby DeSoto, now reinvented as Nash, the peaceful proprietor of an alternative bookstore. Unlike Mary, whose story we follow through time, we only see Nash in the present, and indeed we are never sure that Nash is Bobby until the very end.
Zia, at Nom de Plume, also read this book and as she points out in her review, Nash’s chapters contain too many peripheral characters and digressions which I thought were tiresome. Via Nash’s chapters, the author has some fun with the current state of the protest movement; one of the groups that meets at Nash’s bookstore is called Kill the Street Puppets Project, an antipuppet guerrilla theater group (quite a long way from napalmed babies).
I thought I would like this book because I so liked The Last of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez, another 1970’s protest era story. That book was better than Eat the Document because it was more focused, but Eat the Document has a lot to offer as well.
(Book 40, 2007)