Eat the Document

Ex-Seattle novelist takes a fugitive leftie on the run.

The radical landscape of Dana Spiotta's second novel is the underbelly of modern-day Seattle, the culture of Northwest activism that extends from the antiwar movement of the '70s to the anti-WTO riots of our near past. Spiotta, a former area resident and Evergreen State College grad, understands this activist culture from the inside. She digs deeply into its jargon and theories, always with a dry, reserved neutrality. One of her characters, a teenage girl living on Capitol Hill, describes its milieu thusly: "Olympia and Eugene hipsters, fat girls with attitudes, post-grunge scenesters . . . late comer vultures . . . straight-edge anarchists, militant earth liberators, vanguardist pop culture pranksters, and hybrid testers and toppers from the . . . hinterlands and suburbs." Spiotta's story opens in the '70s, as young, radical Mary is on the run from the FBI. She dyes her hair, changes her identity, and considers the family she must abandon. Is it worth it? This is the painful question Spiotta asks as Mary runs through multiple identities, crosses the country (including Seattle), and raises her son, Jason, over the next two decades. Document is a mosaic in which we unravel this woman's mysterious life—from her perspective and that of her son and other observers. Despite this intricate web of interconnected plots, shifts in time, and changing POVs, Spiotta keeps tight control over the novel. The reader is never led down tangents without good reason. All her story lines eventually intersect, as disparate characters meet, hidden identities are revealed, and seemingly superfluous actions become fateful. Spiotta calculates every word, character, and story line to illuminate the many faces of rebellion. Her book explores protests, bombings, underground filmmaking, and computer hacking, finding the personal and political ramifications of each. The former radical becomes a graying suburbanite (much like Oregon's Katherine Ann Power), an enigma to her son, lost to her parents. Is this the cost of her idealism? Spiotta refuses to condemn Mary's youthful extremism, even while suggesting that, in Jason's quest to understand his bomb-throwing mother, the real explosion took place closer to home. Dana Spiotta will appear at Elliott Bay Book Co., 8 p.m. Thurs., Feb. 23.

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