Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Eat The Document by Dana Spiotta

Tessa Bright Wildsmith

Mary and Bobby are idealistic, passionate and angry. It’s the 1970s, and the Vietnam war has been raging on too long. Mary and Bobby feel like they must do something to speak up. After arranging several radical protests against the war, something goes very wrong. The two erase their past, change their names and go underground. They never see each other again.

Fast forward 30 years and Mary, now Louise, has a 15-year-old son, Jason, and lives in the suburbs. Jason is obsessed with his mother’s generation - the music, the protests and the culture. Jason, however, has no idea who his mother really is.

“Eat The Document” takes a look at the radical protest movement of the 1970s and the ripples and aftershocks of that movement even 30 years later. It asks the questions: Can you ever really outrun your past? Can you ever truly forget or erase the things you’ve done? Even with the best of intentions, passion and anger can lead a person to do terrible things that they never thought possible.

Spiotta poses an interesting question in the book and does make the reader think. However, she does this in an “I’m-smarter-and-know-big-words” way that just comes across as self-righteous. Big words and complicated sentences to show off a large vocabulary doesn’t necessarily make a smart book. I typically appreciate an author who isn’t afraid to use words that are less common, words that someone might actually have to look up. I like reading a book that hasn’t been dumbed down just to make it simple to read. Spiotta went overboard though.

There are at least 5 characters who narrate this book, and everyone of them have the same voice. None of them are bold or memorable or original, because they all sound the same. None of their voices rang true to me. For example, Jason, a 15-year-old boy says the following, “Maybe I infuse ordinary experience with a kind of sacred aura to mitigate the spiritual vapidity of my life.” I don’t know any 15-year-old boys who talk like that. Had Spiotta not told me who was speaking, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference in one character from the next.

Although I appreciate the subject matter and the questions “Eat The Document” poses, I really didn’t enjoy the book at all. It was flat, and the writing annoyed me. I should note though, now that I’ve bashed it, my mother loved this book. She, too, is an avid reader, so perhaps it is simply a matter of taste.

“Eat The Document” starts with an interesting premise, but Spiotta’s wordiness and lack of character depth kept this book skimming a boring, flat line from beginning to end.

Have you read “Eat The Document?” Discuss your thoughts on the book below.

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