Group Reading Guide
Eat the Document
If you want to change your life, first change your
In the heyday of the 1970s underground, Mary Whittaker and Bobby
DeSoto were the quintessential political activists -- in love with
each other and their cause. But when a radical protest against the
Vietnam War ended in tragedy, they vowed to never see each other
again and start anew by changing their names and identities.
Now a fugitive on-the-run, Mary keeps the truth, and the
authorities, at bay by altering her image, dying her hair, and
never staying too long in one place. Mary reinvents herself as
Caroline Sherman, and then takes the name (and social security
number) of a dead infant named Louise Barrot. It''s now the 1990s,
and "Louise" lives with her teenage son Jason in the suburbs of
Seattle -- a son she hardly knows but who revels in the music of
her day. Jason becomes suspect of his mother''s strange ways, and
with the power of technology, he puts together the pieces of her
Shifting between the protests in the 1970s and the consequences
of those choices in the 1990s, Eat the Document is an
unflinching examination of the polarities -- from rebellion and
subculture to advertising and trends -- that can define a
Questions for Discussion
- One of the prominent themes in Eat the Document is
that of identity. For Mary Whittaker, "her identity was more habit
and will than anything more intrinsic" (10). Who do you think the
"real" Mary is and how did she manage to convince herself and
others of her made-up existence?
- The relationship between Nash and Miranda, as well as the one
between Louise and her son Jason, define cultural gaps. Explain the
differences and why you think they are important to the story.
- Jason claims that he is, "the center of the culture . . . I am
fifteen, white, middle class and male . . . People get paid a lot
of money to think of how to get to me and mine" (123). Cite
instances where advertising and merchandising try to imitate the
youth culture, but instead miss the mark. How did advertising''s
hidden agenda cause the demise of Henry? Discuss why defacing or
destroying billboards is portrayed as an act against corporate
- Where in the story does Jason play a parental role to his
mother Louise? Despite her overprotective nature when her son was
born, do you think Louise is a "good" mother? Why do you think she
hid her secret from him for so many years?
- Jason describes suburbia as a "freak''s dreamworld" (73). What
does the sterility of suburban life provide for those like Josh who
thrive within this environment? Why is the notorious, disorderly
Black House "pure post-suburban paradise for a girl like Miranda"
(57) and her housemates? What is so appealing about city life for
these otherwise sheltered kids?
- After being sexually assaulted and trying to erase the incident
from her memory, Caroline claims that "time lessens everything --
the good things you desperately want to remember, and the awful
things you need to forget" (195). Is this statement true for other
characters? How does Caroline''s penchant for moving and redefining
her memories compare to Nash''s preference to staying in one place
and letting fate run its course?
- "A commune and a corporate community are not all that
different. . . . Both allow groups of people to act in concert but
without consequence" (238). Compare the women''s commune in upstate
New York to the corporate giant Allegecom''s "First Self-sustaining
Techtopia in America," Alphadelphia. Discuss the ways in which
these two communities can be seen as social experiments.
- How do you think Nash views the young para-activist groups who
call themselves the testers? How do these technologically
savvy, often self-righteous teens of the nineties compare to the
political activists of the seventies?
- Miranda soon discovers that everything from anarchist clothing
accessories to franchised alternative communities is a commodity.
What happens when the subculture becomes the mainstream? Do you
think capitalism and mass consumption devalue the political ideals
behind the products?
- One difference between Mary and Bobby is that she is an
activist at heart, and he is more of an idealist. Do you think Mary
influenced Bobby to orchestrate the war protest? Was she ultimately
the driving force behind their plan?
- When Bobby and Mary meet again as Louise and Nash, do you think
their love has survived? What is the fate of their
- Do you think Louise will actually turn herself in? If so, why
do you think she would after twenty-five years of hiding?
Enhance Your Book Club
The title Eat the Document comes from a documentary
about Bob Dylan''s 1966 tour. Watch this documentary together and
discuss why you think this is an appropriate title for Dana
Take action! Go to www.speakout.com to get
information about animal rights, race relations, and other topics.
You can also take part in virtual debates, online polls and
surveys, and write to elected officials. Or visit www.volunteermatch.org to
find volunteer opportunities in your area.
Move your book club meeting place to an independent bookstore
near you like Prairie Fire, and for fun coffee drinks you can make
at home, visit www.epicurious.com.