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The Company You Keep

The Company You Keep

3.0 2
by Neil Gordon

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Now a major motion picture directed by Robert Redford and starring Shia LaBeouf, Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie, Terence Howard, Anna Kendrick, Nick Nolte, and Stanley Tucci

It is 2006. Seventeen-year-old Isabel Montgomery starts to receive emails from her father, a man who had abandoned her in a hotel room ten years ago when his past finally caught up with


Now a major motion picture directed by Robert Redford and starring Shia LaBeouf, Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie, Terence Howard, Anna Kendrick, Nick Nolte, and Stanley Tucci

It is 2006. Seventeen-year-old Isabel Montgomery starts to receive emails from her father, a man who had abandoned her in a hotel room ten years ago when his past finally caught up with him. Why has he contacted her now? Because he needs her help and is finally ready to reveal the truth. Over the course of the next month, further emails arrive telling her more about her family's past. Isabel discovers that her father adopted a false identity in the hope of avoiding murder charges for a robbery gone wrong in 1974. By 1996, with a marriage falling apart around him, he is one last Vietnam-era fugitives still wanted by the law. When he is finally tracked down by a young newspaper reporter in search of a story he must abandon years of safe underground life in an attempt to exonerate himself. Set against the rise and fall of the radical anti-war group the Weather Underground, The Company You Keep is a sweeping American saga about sacrifice, the righteousness of youth, and the tension between political ideals and family loyalties.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
It's a precisely written swashbuckler, a serious, sometimes brilliant, always protean tale, that held even a plot curmudgeon like me in its devious spell. — William Luvaas
The Los Angeles Times
The Company You Keep works as a thriller, but the adventures … are grounded firmly in larger political and moral issues, in this case the passionate conviction that the radical opposition in the '60s to the Vietnam War represented the high point of American idealism, the best dream America ever had, a dream embodied in the 1962 Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society ("antiwar, antiracism, and anti-imperialism"), a dream abandoned. — Robert Hellenga
Publishers Weekly
The revolutionary politics of the 1960s haunt the complacent domesticity of the 1990s in this engrossing, if sometimes muddled, melodrama of ideas. When limousine-leftist lawyer and single dad Jim Grant is unmasked as Jason Sinai, an ex-Weather Underground militant wanted for a deadly bank robbery, he abandons his daughter and goes on the lam. As he evades a manhunt and seeks out old comrades, the author introduces a sprawling cast of drug dealers, bomb-planting radicals turned leftist academics, Vietnam vets, FBI agents and Republicans who collectively ponder the legacy of the '60s. Gordon (Sacrifice of Isaac) skillfully combines a tense fugitive procedural, full of intriguing lore about false identities and techniques for losing a tail, with a nuanced exploration of boomer nostalgia and regret. Alas, there are a few too many long-winded, semicoherent debates about the radical excesses of the era that inadvertently evoke marijuana-fueled dormitory bull sessions. Through these exchanges (and a little sexual healing), ideological opposites come together over a facile anti-politics of "national reconciliation." Gordon's rueful radicals, having finally outgrown their adolescent outrage over parental hypocrisy, decide that personal loyalty and raising children trump all belief systems and that "none of the principles matter" any longer. Some who lived through the 1960s may take offense at this caricature, but other boomer readers may find the mix of countercultural drama and familial schmaltz a gratifying validation of their life cycle. In either case, it will get them talking. (June 30) Forecast: Though it lacks the finesse of T. Coraghessen Boyle's recent novel of the counterculture, Drop City, Gordon's latest may stir up similar controversy and curiosity. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The militant activities of the Weather Underground during the Sixties are explored in this third novel from Boston Review literary editor Gordon (Sacrifice of Isaac; The Gun-Runner's Daughter). Attempting to reconnect with his daughter, Isabel, high-profile lawyer James Grant explains that their estrangement has resulted from the mistakes he made during his previous life with the Underground. But he has another reason for reaching out to her: he needs her help in setting free an imprisoned member of the group. The story is well researched and carefully considered, but the way Gordon chooses to tell it is rather peculiar: imagine reading a 400-page e-mail while sitting at your computer, and you have an idea of Isabel's experience. Chapter-length (and curiously authorial) messages to Isabel from different members of the group follow one after the other, detailing their stories in order, which results in a "this happened, then this" feeling that is rather wearisome-not to mention unconvincing. Gordon has a reputation for writing intelligent thrillers, but considering the juicy subject matter, this one never really lives up to its potential. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/03.]-Marc Kloszewski, Indiana Free Lib., PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Underground '60s radicals resurface to exonerate themselves in Gordon's compelling and intricately plotted third outing (The Gun Runner's Daughter, 1998, etc.). It's 2006 when James Grant (a.k.a. Jason Sinai), ex-hippie turned lawyer, begins the collaborative effort, in a series of e-mails written by co-conspirators old and new, of explaining to his daughter Isabel the ethical and familial sacrifices he made for the greater good-by way of pleading for her testimony at the parole hearing of his ex-lover Mimi. Isabel lives in England with her party-girl mother and surly grandfather, Senator Montgomery, whose political career once hinged on the cover-up of his daughter's marriage to Sinai, a famed member of the Weather Underground. After a botched Bank of Michigan holdup where a cop was killed, Sinai and friends went into hiding. The sleeping past comes to a boil in the summer of '96 when a "deep-throat" tip from an FBI agent informs Benjamin Schulberg, a beat reporter for the Albany Times and destined Pulitzer-winning journalist, of the reemergence of fugitive Sharon Solarz, one of Weather's core members, at an illegally wiretapped pot-growing ranch run by Billy Cusimano, client of James Grant. With investigative rigor, Benjamin mines the connections, soon learning Grant's true identity and involvement, along with Solarz and now-drug-runner Mimi Lurie, in the robbery homicide. After taking a new alias and initiating red herrings for the pursuing FBI, Sinai returns to Michigan to find Mimi, the only person who can prove his innocence. Friends and relatives confabulate on how it all went down, often concerning themselves with the failures of democracy and the criminally conducted Vietnam War.They're emotionally charged yet at times feel like padding to provide obligatory background. Isabel is asked to understand a lot, including why her father abandoned her in a hotel room and kept secrets about a half-sister. The final e-mail, written by Isabel in 2010, ties up loose ends. Well-rendered and engaging political drama, in spite of falling prey to certain limitations of the e-epistolary form.
From the Publisher
"Gordon skillfully combines a tense fugitive procedural, full of intriguing lore about false identities and techniques for losing a tail, with nuanced exploration of boomer nostalgia and regret." - Publishers Weekly
"Compelling and intricately plotted...Well-rendered and engaging political drama." - Kirkus Reviews
"Rousing, cerebral...Gordon's plot is a doozy - a trio of doozies, in fact - yet utterly credible. He projects wrenching political and personal drama onto a slightly futuristic version of where we stand now as a people. In so doing he shows how we got here...What makes this novel compelling is not only the ideological spectrum it covers but its emotional chiaroscuro...It bids well to enter the company of our best fiction about the Vietnam era." - The New York Times Book Review
"Gripping." - Chicago Tribune
"Neil Gordan's The COmpany You Keep is an astonishing tour de force, at once an intellectual, emotional and political thriller...[A]n American novel in which plot, characters and ideas are in perfect balance. By bringing the past alive, Gordon enables us to see more clearly where America stands now." - San Francisco Chronicle
"Gordon skillfully interweaves the voices of his fictional narrators with many of the most important totems of the era: Vietnam, the shooting of Kent State students by Ohio National Guard members, and the bombing of a townhouse in Greenwich Village...His characters are so skilfully drwan that they remain likable and interesting, and their missives to Isabel are sincerely felt and compelling reads until the very last page." - The Boston Globe
"[A] hybrid of political novel, love story, cat-and-mouse thriller, and French bedroom farce...entertaining...The Company You Keep becomes an addictive page-turner of a book." - Seattle Times

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
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5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.89(d)

Read an Excerpt

Hush little baby
My poor little thing
You've been shuffled about
Like a pawned wedding ring
It must seem strange
Love was here then gone
And the Oklahoma sunrise
Becomes the Amarillo dawn
What's important
In this life?
Ask the man
Who's lost his wife.
-Chrissie Hynde,

Date: Saturday, June 1, 2006
From: "Daddy"
To: "Isabel Montgomery"
cc: maillist: The_Committee
Subject: letter 1
My dearest Izzy,
All parents are bad parents. This is the first thing I want to tell you. All parents are bad parents, and the sooner you understand this, the easier it's going to be to decide what to do.
I mean, how can we possibly be anything else? Everything we tell you from the day of your birth is such bullshit. We tell you that Mommy and Daddy love each other, that there is a difference between bad and good, and that everything, always, is going to be all right. Then you grow up and find that Mommy and Daddy can't stand each other; that nobody cares if the rich are bad or the poor are good; that most of the world is at war and that everything is in fact looking like it's going to be coming out all, entirely, completely wrong.
We didn't tell you about that part. We didn't tell you that we don't have the faintest idea where we came from, we don't have a clue about why we're here, and as for where we're going, God knows. Except we don't know if there is a God.
See? And so we lie, and therefore, are bad parents.
Right? I'm not arguing with you, Isabel. I don't want you to excuse me, understand me, or sympathize with me. I lied to you, I deceived you about the very fact of who I was, who you were, and then I abandoned you, and all this by the time you were seven. You can't, I think you have to agree, get much worse than that, parent-wise.
The single point that I want to make, in fact, is that all parents are bad parents. We in fact decide, very early on, to lie. And the fact is, we make that decision because the truth would have been worse.
If you think that's defending myself, fine. You can trash this e-mail and miss your plane, that's your choice. But in fact-in fact, now, whether you believe it or not-the truth would have been worse.
I mean, what the hell were we supposed to tell you? Think about it. Hey, darling, you know what? After you go to bed, Mommy and Daddy can hardly sit in the same room without starting to fight, bitter fights, where they say horrible things specifically to hurt each other as deeply as they can. And guess what? Chances are 50-50 that you and some lucky man, one day, are going to make each other just that miserable too.
See what I mean, Isabel? Or how about this:
My dearest girl, bad people are murdering each other horribly from Sierra Leone to Bethlehem, sometimes with machetes, sometimes with guns, and sometimes by torture and starvation. They do it for each other's money, they do it because they don't like what each other believes, and in some places-Ireland, Israel, magical lands over the seas-they do it because they just don't know how to stop.
Then you run off and play with your Legos, right? Right. More likely, after that, you go play with a semiautomatic in a school cafeteria.
Therefore we lie, and we do so because the truth would have been worse. Isabel. You are all grown up now. Seventeen, and filled with the knowledge of good and evil. I didn't mean to brutalize you with the truth when you were a baby, and I don't mean to brutalize you now, either.
I can see you, as you are now, in this spring of 2006. Here in America it is two in the afternoon, the sun distant behind cloud, the field outside my room turning the palest green in the early spring. Where you are, England, it is evening, 7 p.m., the season already in leaf, the night kind with still, warm air. I imagine you in your dorm room, reading this as you sneak cigarette smoke out the windows-in England, I know, school is still in session, and in England, I know, people still smoke.
What I don't know, but I imagine, is that this e-mail isn't any big surprise to you. You've always known it was coming. June 27, 2006-the date has been in your mind as long as you can remember. You have, I think, long been expecting us to contact you. The Committee, your mother calls us. She's entertained you no end, I'm sure, with stories of what we had to go through to get this to you. Group decisions. Pointless arguments. Criticism-self-criticism sessions. You have been waiting for June 27, 2006, for years, and now that it is only weeks away, you are not surprised, I think, to hear from us, nor are you surprised to hear what we are asking you to do.
I see you by the window, your delicate face illumined by a setting sun, the same sun I see outside my own window, right now, from such a different angle on the planet. You are a slight person, seventeen years old. You are, as you have always been, a denial of both of your parents: my round-nosed, high-cheeked daughter with her nut-brown hair; the olive-skinned, brown-eyed daughter of blond Julia Montgomery. And in each way that you do resemble one parent, you deny the other: the intensely studious daughter of the woman who makes European gossip columns every month; my cynical daughter, although I am, if nothing else, an idealist. What do they call you now, Isabel? The Naught Generation, right? The Millennial Generation. No politics, not even antiwar, no ideals, no drugs. The first generation since I was a child, nearly fifty years, not to use drugs! See, I have not seen you in a long time, Isabel, but I know you.
And I can hear what you're thinking, too. You're thinking, You know me, Dadda? I don't think so. Or better yet, Dadda, I do not think so one bit.
Okay. I admit, maybe it is a little girl's voice that I am remembering. But memory is telling, isn't it? Because I think I understand also that if I want to get Isabel, the young woman, to do what I want her to do, it is still a little girl I have to convince.
Yes, my dear. We are going to ask you to do it. We are going to ask you to leave one of the nicest places on earth, three weeks from now, and fly to one of the worst. Detroit, Michigan. We are just what your mother says we are: the "Committee," a bunch of balding ex-hippies, at least, I am bald, and I am an ex-hippie. And we are in fact contacting you-and that by e-mail, so as to avoid your grandfather and your mother-to convince you, just as you have always known we were going to, to do something very public, very exposed, and very awful indeed.
We want you, on Sunday, June 25, to escape your grandfather's security, those bodyguards who are there ostensibly to protect Ambassador Montgomery's granddaughter from kidnapping but in fact to keep you from doing exactly what we have contacted you to ask you to do. We want you to take a flight from your picture-book little school for rich kids in England to a maximum-security state prison in Michigan-note the difference-and there to testify at a parole hearing, and in so doing, to commit a horrendous act of betrayal.
I won't blame you for saying no.
And still, I am going to try to convince you to do it.
This is why.
Because while it's true that all parents are bad parents, there is something else true also. That as bad as we were-and we were very, very bad-we were also as good as ever we could be. Given the circumstances of our lives, which were dramatic, and were not circumstances of our making.
And that's the point, Izzy. That's the point. I don't deny that I was a bad parent. I'm not writing to excuse that fact. I'm writing, and so are the others, to tell you why.
We're writing to tell you why, in the summer of 1996, ten years ago, your good, kind, just father, a man widely admired in the picture-book little town where you lived, was revealed to be someone altogether other than who he said. We're writing to tell you how the world he had constructed around you-a kind and just world; a world filled with sun and snow and water; a world of rich colors and high adventure; a world of safe interiors and long, fearless nights-how that world was all revealed to be a lie.
We're writing to ask you to understand that not just your parents, but all parents are bad parents, and we are that because we have no choice.
That one day, you will be a bad parent too.

Okay. That's why we're writing. And we all agreed on that. How to write, on the other hand, was harder for us. The finer points of how-that required the extended debate that your mother, no doubt, would have found amusing. See, we agreed to tell you the truth. But as to what was the truth, that was not so clear.
First we thought we'd write it together. Billy Cusimano got his computer geek to give us all e-mails on his Web site, so people like Ben and Rebeccah don't have to use their work e-mails, and none of us have to worry too much about confidentiality: apparently Billy-who doesn't quite understand that Cusimano Organics is actually a legal business-uses some pretty far-out encryption. So I get started, write a dozen pages, send them to the Committee. Not ten minutes later, Rebeccah IM's me, that damn little AOL Instant Messenger window popping up on my screen. "This a walk down amnesia lane, Pops? Or are we trying to tell the girl something about what really happened?" Pops, for Christ sake. Then Jeddy chimes in, wondering whether I'm drawing on a Trotskyite historiographical framework, here, because he wants to know how to interpret my blatant falsifications of fact-propaganda or Alzheimer's. Then Ben, always useful, asks if we're trying to get Isabel to help us or to hurt us, 'cause from what I've written so far, it looked like we should all be jailed without parole, and soon it's clear that no one is going to agree on anything. Until Molly suggests that we just each take turns, the five, six of us who played direct roles in what happened the summer of 1996.
Here's her plan: we'll each tell you a piece of the story, and then hand it on to the next one, and like that we won't have to agree with each other, but just let you see the whole thing. And furthermore, we each do it alone, so whatever contradictions there might be in our accounts, you can hear them yourself. I'll go first, and when I've done as much as I can in one sitting, I'll e-mail it to you and cc the rest of the Committee, then someone else will take the story a step further. And like that, unless you start blocking our e-mails, little by little, the whole story will come to you, and all you have to do is read.
So everyone agreed to that, and everyone agreed that I had to start, and so the problem then became, Where? The day you were born? The day I was born? The day civil war broke out in Spain? I fretted over that for a good few days of Michigan spring rains. And then I thought, the hell with it, we are telling the truth, aren't we? And trying to tell it in the way it actually happened, aren't we? Well, if that's the case, it all really started in Billy Cusimano's Sea of Green in June 1996, and it is, therefore, with Billy that I am going to start.

What People are Saying About This

Nicholas Delbanco
The Company You Keep is a brave and ambitious novel - sweeping in its grasp of history, ingenious in its linkage of the past and future. The story-line is intricate, the moral fervor real. In addition it's that old-fashioned thing: an adventure-and-love story with characters we care about as they play Hide and Seek. The serious political novel is a rare thing in America, and this book enlarges that category; The Company You Keep charts the complicated landscape where personal and public values intersect.
Joseph Kanon
The Company You Keep has all the page-turning pleasures of a compelling manhunt story and an intricate plot, but it gives us finally something even more: the richest and most nuanced account we've yet had of the aftermath of '60s youth politics, its betrayed promises, its compromised children, its lives on the run - all the human fallout of a society that tore itself apart and never quite put itself together again.
From the Publisher
"A hybrid of political novel, love story, cat-and-mouse thriller . . . an addictive page-turner of a book" —The Seattle Times

"Cerebral, rousing . . . it bids well to enter the company of our best fiction about the Vietnam era." —The New York Times Book Review

Meet the Author

Neil Gordon is the literary editor of the Boston Review and a frequent book reviewer for the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe.

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The Company You Keep 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book, and the Robert Redford film of the same name, is not a one-sided diatribe against "our" country, but a thoughtful analysis of what motivates people to commit dissent and/or violence in the name of justice. In a world consumed with terrorism, it is useful to take a look backwards and re-examine the '60's, when our country was involved in a misguided war overseas which killed 60,000 Americans and devastated a land we had no business being in. We need to think about what was going on, when students were shot on U.S. campuses by our armed forces. If we can understand what motivated our own citizens to such acts, we can perhaps understand what drives other "freedom fighters" elsewhere. The book is not to blame for what it fearlessly and brilliantly depicts.
Hexmate More than 1 year ago
What a piece of fictional creativity that portrays malcontents as some sort of patriots with noble aspirations versus the reality of murderers and criminals. Terrorists are terrorists and they perpetrate terrorism on unsuspecting innocent people while trying to create an image of self righteousness and saviors of the oppressed when they wouldn’t recognize the term or the condition under any circumstances.