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By Dana Spiotta
(Scribner, 2006, 304pps; $15)

At the peak of the war resistance movement in the early 1970s, a pair
of impassioned activists plan a series of radical actions against war-profiteering corporations. Something goes wrong, and Bobby and Mary are forced to separate and go underground. The two must erase their
past, forge new identities, and never see each other.

Twenty-five years later, Mary lives in the suburbs and has no idea where Bobby is, or even if he is still alive. Her teenage son Jason spends hours immersed in the music of his mother’s generation but is unaware of her radical past. A seemingly innocuous remark from his mother causes him to suspect maybe there are secrets in her past.

The story shifts alternately between the events and choices of Mary’s activist youth and the consequences of those choices in the 1990s. The novel explores connections between the two eras: music, language, media, technology, drugs, and, importantly, activism.

I enjoyed this novel for the depth of the characters with whom I could identify and for its insights into culture, rebelliousness, morality, and the futility and the power of counter-culture activism. Mary’s experience of loneliness and alienation as a fugitive echoes a larger loneliness of people in a corporate-run, consumption-driven society. This novel can be appreciated as a serious essay on the challenges of resisting the dominant paradigm.

John Dalbey resides in San Luis Obispo.