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AMERICAN SUBVERSIVE by David Goodwillie

AMERICAN SUBVERSIVE

By David Goodwillie

Pub Date: April 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4391-5705-3
Publisher: Scribner

He's a cynical blogger; she's an idealistic eco-warrior (or eco-terrorist, depending). Eventually their worlds collide in this smart, edgy, suspenseful first novel from the author of the memoir Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time (2006).

The alternating narrators are 30-somethings Aidan Cole and Paige Roderick. Aidan is part of the Manhattan social whirl, blogging by day, partying by night; his girlfriend Cressida is a New York Times reporter. The embodiment of a shallow, parasitical culture, Aidan blogs professionally, debunking the Fourth Estate in a mildly subversive way. The true subversive, and considerably more interesting character, is Paige, a North Carolinian who once worked for a Washington think tank. What radicalized her was the death of her beloved brother Bobby, a National Guard member, killed by friendly fire in Iraq. She joined some back-to-the-landers in her home state before being recruited by the charismatic Keith Sutter to work on Actions exposing corrupt energy companies. The Movement is a network of small cells; they live in safe houses. As the novel opens, they have just detonated a large bomb in a Manhattan building housing a shady oil company. No casualties—they avoid them studiously—but the explosion has rattled the city. Aidan receives an anonymous e-mail, linking Paige to the Action; just her photo (she's gorgeous) and name. Curiosity piqued, he follows the trail to Vermont, where they have a brief confrontation. Goodwillie evokes life underground like a master—the tradecraft, the fraught group dynamics, the combination of discipline and paranoia, the longing for normality. Then he stumbles. Paige defects after glimpsing Keith's pride and joy, a shrapnel-packed bomb. That's credible; what follows when she tracks Aidan down in New York is not. He has an instant conversion, passing up the scoop of a lifetime to join Paige underground and prevent Keith's upcoming Action. Further problems develop when the identity of that anonymous e-mailer is revealed, prompting clunky exposition that interrupts the climax.

Despite the missteps, there's abundant promise here.