Spiotta has written a glorious sendup of contemporary social and ecological activists with all their preening idealism and absurdity — especially the intelligent-sounding nonsense people spew at one another, even as they rarely connect on any meaningful level. This same disconnectedness plagues older characters like Mary and Bobby. Haunted by the past and insecure in the present, they are strangers to their lovers, friends and families, and ultimately to themselves.
The New York Times
Lives in the aftermath of 1970s radicalism form the basis of Spiotta's follow-up to her debut, Lightning Field. We meet Mary Whittaker as she goes underground and tests out a series of new names for herself in a motel room. Flash forward to the 21st century, where Mary, now "Caroline," is a single mother whose teenage son, Jason, seems to have inherited her restlessness. (Jason checks into the narrative via his journal entries.) Mary's partner in subversion and in bed was Bobby DeSoto, who, now closing in on 50 and going by the name of Nash, runs a leftist bookstore called Prairie Fire for his friend Henry, a troubled Vietnam vet. The unspoken affection between Henry and Nash and the many nuances of their deep friendship, beautifully rendered by Spiotta, give the book a compelling core. A young woman named Miranda becomes the improbable object of Nash's skittish affection. And when Jason begins to discover bits of his mother's past, Mary begins to resurface-with possibly disastrous results. As plot lines entangle, Spiotta tightens the narrative and shortens the chapters, which doesn't really add tension or pace. The result is a very spare set of character studies not well-enough served by the resolution. A near miss. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Spiotta's (Lightning Field) second novel is a forthright and fascinating look at American counterculture at the end of the 20th century. Mary (later Caroline, then Louise) and her lover Bobby are members of a 1970s activist group. When a protest goes violently wrong, they must separately change their identities and go "underground." Fast-forward to 1990s Seattle, where Louise's teenage son, a bootleg music junkie, wants to discover his mother's secret, and a comic book store is a meeting place for anarchist revolutionaries of all stripes. The narrative alternates between the recent past and a more distant time, tracing Mary's journey and evolution into Louise as she attempts to leave her old identity behind. This work is particularly smart about the ironies and contradictions of the modern protest movement, in which even anarchy can be appropriated and sold by capitalist culture. Recommended for public and academic libraries.-Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Two 1970s activists spend decades on the run in Spiotta's antihero odyssey. With her second novel, Spiotta (Lightning Field, 2001) shows what riches can be gleaned from an approach that could at first blush seem overly mannered. Her protagonists, Bobby DeSoto and Mary Whittaker, appear only briefly as their true selves-passionate radicals in the Weather Underground vein, second-tier behind the likes of Bill Ayres and Bernadine Dohrn-and then mostly only at the very end, in a bitter coda that reveals how their activism took a tragic turn. At the start of the book, Mary is already in hiding, under instructions from Bobby to choose a new identity. Spiotta follows Mary through the years as she moves from one community to the next, the heat always on her back, a kind and conscientious woman just a couple loaves of bread shy of being a full-on earth mother. Alternating chapters are set in the late '90s, when Bobby (now known as Nash) works at an alternative Seattle bookstore and organizes protest groups in the back room. Bobby is the story's brain, a sharp intellect chipping away at the corporate-government edifice, dreaming of being a heroic artist working on "your lifelong project, monument, statement. Your unyielding testament to, uh . . . well, unyielding." Mary, then, is the heart-the kind but saddened eternal vagabond. It's an unwelcome gender cliche in a book mostly void of such things. Spiotta fills in the spaces between the two fugitives with a wealth of detail and scintillating secondary characters, elucidating the vast gulf between the alternative cultures of the '70s and '90s, as well as the elements that bind them. Fiction as documentary, a coruscating, heartrending fable ofstruggle and loss. Agent: Melanie Jackson/Melanie Jackson Agency
Spiotta's writing brims with energy and intelligence."
The New York Times Book Review
"Infused with subtle wit...singularly powerful and provocative...Spiotta has a wonderful ironic sensibility, juxtaposing '70s fervor with '90s expediency."
The Boston Globe
"Scintillating...Spiotta creates a mesmerizing portrait of radicalism's decline."
The Seattle Times
"Stunning...a glittering book that possesses the staccato ferocity of Joan Didion and the historical resonance and razzle-dazzle language of Don DeLillo."
Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times