Notes from underground as radicals
reinvent and the truth lies dormant
Dana Spiotta’s Eat The Document (2005) imagines the two leaders of a group like The Weather Underground actually going underground in 1972 after a subversive incident goes wrong and proves fatal. A reader may already have an inkling of how this will turn out, but Spiotta’s smartest move plot-wise is to also focus on teenagers in the late ‘90s and their ‘counter-cultural’ behavior. The radicals of the ’67 – ’74 era wanted to change American society by trying to stop the Vietnam War from outside the system of power. The teenagers and young adults of the late ‘90s are more interested in commenting, mostly with ironic self-awareness, upon the system in which they find themselves.
|The Weather Underground|
The course that the female leader’s life followed from 1972 – 1998 proves fascinating history of various political and philosophical views by those living in the American counterculture. By the ‘90s, they seem like a marketing niche demographic. The younger generation’s members may seem more articulate and sentient, but they do not lead a physical course of action to challenge – certainly not overthrow – the powers that be. One computer genius does initiate
a bold course, but this is to become part of the establishment. He hints that he might undermine from within, but there’s little evidence he will since he ends up treating his girlfriend in a patronizing fashion.
Jason, the teenage son of the female radical leader years later, is the only character to be granted first person limited omniscience in his journal. His observations and longing are sharp and pointed. They’re also too lucid, almost as if this fifteen year old were writing a position paper instead of a journal. That’s the only fault I have with Eat the Document.
With this and Stone Arabia (2011), Spiotta demonstrates her intense focus on the outsider in American society, whether that may be the outlaw, the obscure, or the eloquent. She shows that although people may say they want to start over or change their lives, they rarely do unless they have few – if any – other choices. Her style observes power (corporate,
governmental, celebrity) in a way that does not distance. She’s different from Don DeLillo, to whom she’s been compared, in that regard. Instead, she pulls in the reader to look at the patterns of this era.