2006 National Book Award Finalist, Fiction

Dana Spiotta

Eat the Document


About the Book

The moving story of a fugitive radical from the 1970s who has lived in hiding for twenty-five years. Now raising a son, she must reckon with the consequences of her choices during that turbulent era.

About the Author

Dana Spiotta is the author of the novel Lightning Field, a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. She lives in Cherry Valley, New York.

Suggested Links



Lightning Field, Scribner


from Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta

By Heart

It is easy for a life to become unblessed.

Mary, in particular, understood this. Her mistakes -- and they were legion -- were not lost on her. She knew all about the undoing of a life: take away, first of all, your people. Your family. Your lover. That was the hardest part of it. Then put yourself somewhere unfamiliar, where (how did it go?) you are a complete unknown. Where you possess nothing. Okay, then -- this was the strangest part -- take away your history, every last bit of it.

What else?

She discovered, despite what people may imagine, having nothing to lose is a lot like having nothing. (But there was something to lose, even at this point, something huge to lose, and that was why this unknown, homeless state never resembled freedom.)
The unnerving, surprisingly creepy and unpleasantly psychedelic part -- you lose your name.

Mary finally sat on a bed in a motel room that very first night after she had taken a breathless train ride under darkening skies and through increasingly unfamiliar landscape. Despite her anxiety she still felt lulled by the tracks clicking at intervals beneath the train; an odd calm descended for whole minutes in a row until the train pulled into another station and she waited for someone to come over to her, finger-pointing, some unbending and unsmiling official. In between these moments of near calm and all the other moments, she practiced appearing normal. Only when she tried to move could you notice how shaky she was. That really undid her, her visible unsteadiness. She tried not to move.

Five state borders, and then she was handing over the cash for the room -- anonymous, cell-like, quiet. She clutched her receipt in her hand, stared at it, September 15, 1972, and thought, This is the first day of it. Room Twelve, the first place of it.

Photo credit: Jessica Marx