Monday, June 7, 2010

American Subversive

I got to the Kenyon College Bookstore soon enough after David Goodwillie's book signing for his first novel, American Subversive, to buy one of the remaining signed copies, and have been waiting for summer to read it, as it sounded to me like a thriller. Which it is, with satiric bits on suburban complacency and political pragmatism thrown in as seasoning, plus a romance ending that doesn't ring true but makes the mystery end more cosily.

The narrative switches back and forth between Aidan, a disaffected blogger, and Paige, a committed subversive. Aidan speaks for my generation (she said, blogging, self-consciously):

"I'd grown up with parents who'd once believed change was possible, if only in increments, small measures and token gestures. But the increments never added up. The sixties drifted further into the past, its idealism became the material of memoir--this is what we did before we grew up. My father gave in. My mother became irrelevant. What was the lesson in all this? That you couldn't shape the world in your image. And it was a waste of time to try."

Paige, on the other hand, seems to me to speak for a younger, more cynical and activist generation:

"I'd been working to reform a culture and country that changes imperceptibly if it changes at all. A system built on compromise and control, where there's no room for idealism, for grace....Here was one last chance to embrace that grand idea that things could get better, that they would get better, if we set out to make them so. What was the alternative?"

The "last chance" is to blow up a business with whose practice Paige and her compatriots do not agree.

Inevitably, of course, Aidan is forced to stop merely commenting and take a stand, and Paige is forced to disagree with the increasingly violent methods of her fellow subversives, allowing the two of them to meet somewhere in the middle of the plot: "I glimpsed common ground between us--that deep and abiding distrust of the media. But Jesus, the ways we'd gone about addressing it!" They have a preachingly obvious discussion of their attitudes towards "unacceptable circumstances" in modern America before Aidan throws his lot in with hers and spends the rest of his life underground, with the help of a seemingly endless parade of former radicals who are true, in the end, to their romantic streak.

It's a thrilling adventure story--halfway through I didn't want to put it down--and its unexpected achievement is to make the reader care about what happens to Paige, a terrorist by any other name.


Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I thought this book was about something else, I think. I thought it was something about terrorism, but it seems to be about another type of terrorism entirely. There is a gathering in New York in a few weeks that I think be hosting this author. This has interested e enough that I may go and check it out.

Marian Schembari said...