Eat the DocumentBook | Dana Spiotta By Tracy O’Neill
Idealism on the run.
Lefties fight for their rights, and pay the consequences in Eat the Document, Dana Spiotta's second novel, whose title is taken from the rare Bob Dylan documentary of the same name. The story of two Vietnam War-era dissenters on the lam after their protest-film group accidentally kills a woman in a bombing, Eat the Document interweaves various storylines and perspectives. There is the radical filmmaker Bobby Desoto; his prescient boss, Henry; the protester Mary Whittaker, who charades as a suburban cooking teacher; and her music-geek son, Jason. The four narrative strands gain momentum through suspenseful plotting—Will Whittaker and Desoto be caught?—and manage impressive cohesion by layering various locations, 1960s and '70s musical allusions, and counterculture motifs. Yet this skilled endeavor loses a measure of poignancy in its failure to depict its key players as likeable antiheroes. Whittaker and Desoto are somewhat empathetic in their shortcomings but never quite reveal discernible virtues, so their story provokes a limited emotional punch in its culmination. Like so many of the protesters portrayed between its covers, Eat the Document is intelligent, complicated, but lacking some human element.