The 1970s were a pivotal time for those in my generation, so I was drawn to Eat the Document: A Novel. I participated in my share of protests against the Vietnam War and the tragedy of Kent State.
From the synopsis, we learn: “In the heyday of the 1970s underground, Bobby DeSoto and Mary Whittaker — passionate, idealistic, and in love — design a series of radical protests against the Vietnam War. When one action goes wrong, the course of their lives is forever changed. The two must erase their past, forge new identities, and never see each other again.”
As the story opens, Mary has put five states between herself and what happened. She is using the name “Caroline,” and it is obviously an informal kind of name change, as we will discover later how she makes the change more permanent. And what that kind of change feels like…as if her life, as she knew it, is now definitely over.
The story sweeps back and forth between the 1970s and 80s and into the 1990s, and we see some similarities between the protests back then and those in the later era. The story spotlights some characters living in Seattle, like Nash, who manages a bookstore called Prairie Fire Books, and the store owner, Henry, who seems to have some dark urges governing his days and nights.
We focus a bit on Jason, the 15-year-old son of the newly recreated Louise (who was once Mary, then Caroline, and a few other reinvented selves). From Jason’s point of view, we see that he is struggling with what he feels are secrets his mother is keeping. He senses something.
Will Jason discover Mary’s past? Will Nash and Mary connect at some point? Who is Nash? Mary/Louise’s movements through the 1970s and onward have brought her to Washington, closer to what is happening in Seattle.
As the past converges on the present, we can look back and feel the flavors of the times as they were changing…and appreciate how, in the present, there is still something of the past that lingers. A captivating read that kept my interest, except for a few chapters that introduced some of the 1990s characters. 4.0 stars.