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David Goodwillie – American Subversive

February 16, 2011

19. American Subversive by David Goodwillie (2010)

Length: 312 pages

Genre: Thriller, Modern fiction

Started: 02 February 2011
Finished: 04 February 2011

Where did it come from? Christmas gift from a friend.
Why do I have it? See above.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 21 December 2010.

What happens when the
terrorists have a cause that
you believe in too?

Summary: Aidan Cole is a thirty-something media blogger, spending his days moving through the hipper-than-thou scene of disaffected New Yorkers. The city is slowly returning to normal after a bombing of a downtown office building, when Aidan receives an anonymous e-mail with a picture of a pretty young woman and the message “This is Paige Roderick. She’s the one responsible.” Aidan knows he should call the police, but instead he sets out to investigate on his own. As he learns more and more, it seems like he understands less and less: if the e-mail is real, and not some elaborate hoax, why would this average American woman be involved in acts of terrorism? And what’s going to happen to her – and him – if he gets involved?

Review: This book was an intensely slow start for me. I struggled to get to page 60, and at that point, I hated both of the main characters, and still had no clear idea where the plot was going. I have extraordinarily limited patience when it comes to reading about hard-partying hipster urbanites, and I was more than ready to abandon the book if it meant not having to spend any more time with them. I decided to give the book until page 100, and if I still wasn’t interested, then I’d give it up as a lost cause. However, when I picked the book up the next night, the plot finally got kick-started, and while I still didn’t like the characters much, I was pulled into their story, and I read straight through to the end of the book, barely even moving except to turn pages. I’m still not sure that I even liked the story, exactly, but it sure as hell was crazy-compelling.

Part of the reason that I had a problem connecting with this book was its hyper-realism. I’m normally an escapist reader, and American Subversive is the polar opposite of escapism: it’s brutally critical of the modern world, and it demands that its readers wake up and take a good hard look at themselves and at our society, and a lot of what it had to say was almost uncomfortably insightful. However, the brutal criticism was pretty unrelenting, and after a while it really started to wear on me. Goodwillie’s scathingly critical of the current state of things, and scathingly critical of those who don’t try to change the current state of things, but also scathingly critical of the ways in which everyone in this book *does* try to change the current state of things.

…it seemed as if I were meeting the same person six different times, a person who’d retreated from some larger life to gain a voice in a smaller one, traded in the big ideas for a sense of diminished achievement. They combated globalization by drinking free-trade coffee, rescued the environment one energy-saving light-bulb at a time. Call it what you want – paring down, going local, dropping out – but I could never shake the feeling that such peace of mind came at the price of significance. –p. 134

It’s a book that seems to demand something of its readers, but I’ll be damned if I could figure out what exactly that something was, leaving me with a feeling like I’d just sat through a scolding I wasn’t sure that I deserved. So, overall, it was an (eventually) compelling read, and an interesting change from my beaten path, but I came out the other side not feeling entirely edified or particularly hopeful. On technical grounds, it’s an impressive debut novel, it just didn’t work so well for me. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: People who like modern (especially post-9/11) fiction or political thrillers more than I do may have an easier time of this than I did.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Necromancy Never Pays
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: I am in hiding, someplace cold.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 11: “Once a host to blood-spattered union men and long-limbed transvestites, the Meatpacking District was now a vulgar orgy of development, the titivated epicenter of New York’s grotesque and tragically hip.” – to make smart or spruce up.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 16, 2011 6:59 pm

    Is post-9/11 fiction a genre? :p

    • February 17, 2011 9:54 am

      Jenny – Sort of? Genre is maybe not the right word, but there’s definitely a subset of books in which 9/11 is used as a major motivating factor to explain The Way Things Are Now.

  2. February 16, 2011 7:28 pm

    I do like books that make me think about our society and values, but I don’t think I want to be judged as I read it.

    • February 17, 2011 9:55 am

      bermudaonion – The feeling judged may just be me and my unfamiliarity with this kind of fiction; if you like books that focus on society and values you may not have the same reaction to it at all.

  3. February 17, 2011 4:43 pm

    When I read fiction I usually want to escape also so I don’t think this is a book for me.

    • February 22, 2011 10:05 am

      Vasilly – Yeah, while I’m sure there’s a huge audience out there that would love this book, the overlap of that audience with escapist readers is probably pretty small.

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