When the front blurb of a book compares it to a cross between Joan Didion and Don DeLillo, I admit to thinking, “Nope, won’t like it.” (Call me a plebian; I’ve never been able to get into a DeLillo novel yet.)
But I started it anyway, and 96 pages later the book fell on my face because I’d dozed off trying to finish it before bed. Spiotta has an odd writing style. She tells the story by describing scenes and letting you figure out how the characters are feeling, almost like a screenplay writer. But her prose is compelling. And her characters drive the plot in magnificent ways. I’m a sucker for well-drawn characters.
It’s not just another tiresome sixties novel; it’s got pep and zest and less moral certitude and condescension than others of the genre; the female protagonist is in hiding, and it is her fifteen-year-old son who finally figures it out. Her boyfriend at the time of their criminal troubles is equally well-drawn, and a sympathetic character in ways her stiffness holds back for this reader. If you like character studies and subtle writing, this is your book.
If you like fast pacing, you may not like this novel. It’s a jumble of words, action/inaction, and ideas, and I finished it in two sittings. For me, the book was more about the action and what happens next than the way the author wrote; the words didn’t get in the way of the outcomes and how the characters were reacting to each other. Which I love in an author; poetry is fine, but don’t spend all your time proving you’re clever. Just tell the story and let your characters take over. Which Spiotta did, with bells on.
An enthusiastic two paws up for Eat the Document.