A bold, multifaceted reconstruction of the aftermath of the 1974 kidnapping of heiress Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army.
Some army: just nine soldiers, and six of them will die in the fire that accompanies a shootout with the authorities in Los Angeles. Second-novelist Sorrentino (Sound on Sound, 1995) begins his story the day before that, as Tania (Patty’s guerrilla name) fires her carbine to protect her comrades, caught shoplifting. The three then commit five successive carjackings, while elsewhere their Field Marshal requisitions—from The People—the house where his group will die. This long opening section is fine edge-of-the-seat suspense. Then Sorrentino, tinkering with the historical record but keeping the fundamentals intact, tracks Tania and the other two survivors as they settle into different safe houses in the East, return to California, rob two banks in Sacramento and get nabbed in September 1975. They’re aided by a network of sympathizers, chief among them Guy Mock, a big-talking “radical sportswriter” who smells a megabucks book deal. The point of view constantly shifts. We hear from Tania’s parents; the FBI operations chief; Guy’s brother Ernest, who’s a lush and a snitch; a bank robbery victim; and the bewildered, conservative parents of other activists. There are odd digressions: Tania waitressing, undisguised, at a Borsht Belt resort; Guy peddling his book project in New York (clumsy satire). And there’s one more scene as suspenseful as that opening, when Guy is almost killed by the paranoid General Teko. The lasting impression is that the hard-core SLA members are, in the words of their sympathizers, “fucked-up sons of bitches” with no “clear channel to the truth.” Tania is pleasingly complex, bound to the group by the existential novelty of her situation and her newfound love of firearms.
Undisciplined if consistently entertaining account of a media sensation. But Sorrentino has burrowed deep into this violent counterculture without quite achieving the insights of, say, Joan Didion.