Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

Through a set of circumstances too convoluted to bore you with, I happen to have been asked to make some editorial comments on the manuscript that became Mr. Goodwillie's first book. It was a memoir and while it was well enough written, the big thing that I recommended was that he not waste his talents on a form that, while dominating the best-seller lists at the time, is fundamentally dishonest. I doubt the comments ever made it back to him and his memoir was published to some acclaim, though I was intrigued to discover a USA Today story where his book was contrasted with James Frey's Milion Little Pieces, the thoroughly falsified disaster that helped put an end to the craze. But this second book from Mr. Goodwillie is indeed a novel and a terrific one at that.

In alternating chapters a young blogger in Manhattan, Aidan Cole, and the subversive of the title, Paige Roderick, describe how they drifted together and onto the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List. Paige was recruited out of Beltway think-tank politics by an anti-corporate terror cell after her brother was killed in Iraq. As the book opens, she and her comrades have just blown up Barney's headquarters in NYC. When an anonymous informant e-mails Aidan a photograph of Paige leaving the scene he becomes obsessed with finding her.

His determination and the manner in which he becomes ever more involved are very much out of character. After all, as he says at one point, the epigraph of his generation ought to be: "We never believed in anything." Yet he is eventually driven by a belief that he can help Paige and that together they can stop her increasingly radical compatriots. Likewise, Paige only become truly passionate once she turns to stopping the bombings. When she's involved in them she just seems to be going with the flow of others' beliefs:
If Keith and Lindsay were comfortable with this life. then I would be, too. Questions still plagued me, of course, not because they had no answers, but because they were never posed. It was as if challenging each other, probing beneath the surface of our surreal reality, into ethics, say, and responsibility, had been deemed unnecessary, irrelevant.
Later on it is Aidan who asks the uncomfortable questions, about what the point of the bombing is. And when Paige unthinkingly says its to shock people in the suburbs out of their complacency, he puts the shiv in by asking why the American middle class shouldn't be complacent given how well we live?

The great irony of the book lies in the way the two finally find their purpose only in trying to defend America from the subversives, putting everything in their own lives at risk to do so. One of the characters in the book, a rich Venezuelan friend of Aidan's, offers what really ought to be the epigraph, in a quote from the Italian anarchist Alfredo Bonanno: "Beyond the crises, beyond other problems of underdevelopment, beyond poverty and hunger, the last fight that capital will have to put up, the decisive one, is the fight against boredom." In an interview while he out publicizing this book, Mr. Goodwillie mentioned that he was being criticized for writing it by conservatives who couldn't possibly have read it. He's right about that. His portrayal of two young people who snap out of their nihilistic boredom and take up the fight for "capital," even if they wouldn't see it quite that way, could hardly be a more conservative text.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

Political Fiction
David Goodwillie Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: David Goodwillie
    -BOOK SITE: American Subversive (Simon & Schuster)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: American Subversive
    -PROFILE: Reading The Detective: Police detective Edward Conlon has a new novel that captures real life police work like few others. He speaks to David Goodwillie about his literary household and his latest work. (David Goodwillie, 6/09/11, Daily Beast)
    -PROFILE: My Afternoon with a Dominatrix: David Goodwillie talks with former NYC dominatrix Melissa Febos about nurse’s outfits, double lives, and her new memoir Whip Smart. (David Goodwillie, 3/12/10, Daily Beast)
    -PROFILE: Then We Came to Book Two: Like his protagonist in The Unnamed, Joshua Ferris just can’t stand still. He talks about his inventive new book with David Goodwillie. (David Goodwillie, 1/28/10, Daily Beast)
    -PROFILE: The Great Recession Novel: Adam Haslett sits down with David Goodwillie to discuss Union Atlantic, his timely first novel about two warring neighbors and a bank on the brink of a meltdown. (David Goodwillie, 2/15/10, Daily Beast))
    -PROFILE: Lit Ink: Forget butterflies or skull and bones, the new tattoo fad is Plath, Faulkner, and other quotes from famous authors. David Goodwillie talks to the authors of a new book, The Word Made Flesh, for the latest literary craze. (David Goodwillie, 2/12/10, Daily Beast)
    -INTERVIEW: with David Goodwillie (Marshall Zeringue, April 12, 2010, Writer Interviews)
    -INTERVIEW: Author, with new book out, first crafted memoir at Chelsea Hotel (JOE ANTOL, 5/28/10, Gay City News)
    -INTERVIEW: New Novel Tackles Terrorism in the City (Pia Catton, 5/03/10, Wall Street Journal)
    -INTERVIEW: David Goodwillie's Subversive Shelf (Miranda Lewis, 6/14/10, WNYC)
    -INTERVIEW: Living With Music: A Playlist by David Goodwillie (BLAKE WILSON, 2/17/10, NY Times: Papercuts)
    -PROFILE: Look me in the eye and tell me it's true (Carol Memmott, 3/02/06, USA TODAY)
    -INTERVIEW: David Goodwillie Discovers His Muse at the Chelsea (Hotel Chelsea Blog, 8/03/06)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: David Goodwillie’s (Subversively?) (Ken Hamm, Apostrophe Cast)
    -ARTICLE: Publish or Terrorist? Random House and Scribner in Violent-Novel Smackdown (W.M. Akers, April 21, 2010, NY Observer)
    -ARCHIVES: David Goodwillie (Daily Beast)
    -REVIEW: of American Subversive by David Goodwillie (MALENA WATROUS, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of American Subversive (Barbara Fisher, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of American Subversive (Mike Householder, Huffington Post)
    -REVIEW: of American Subversive (Tyrone Beason, The Seattle Times)
    -REVIEW: of American Subversive (Claire Howorth, Daily Beast)
    -REVIEW: of American Subversive (Jennifer Reese, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of American Subversive (Stuart Evers, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of American Subversive (Liza Monroy, The Faster Times)
    -REVIEW: of American Subversive (Nancy Connors, Cleveland Plain Dealer)
    -REVIEW: of American Subversive (Lit Review)
    -REVIEW: of American Subversive (Carol Memmott, USA TODAY)
    -REVIEW: of American Subversive (John McCrystal , NZ Herald)
    -REVIEW: of American Subversive (Albert Riehle, San Francisco Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Kings County by David Goodwillie (Russ Smith, Splice Today)
    -REVIEW: of Kings County (Ashley Pabilonia, Spectrum)

Book-related and General Links: