Summary and book reviews of The Spectators by Jennifer duBois

The Spectators

by Jennifer duBois

The Spectators by Jennifer duBois X
The Spectators by Jennifer duBois
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Apr 2019, 352 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Michael Kaler
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

A shocking crime triggers a media firestorm for a controversial talk show host in this provocative novel - a story of redemption, a nostalgic portrait of New York City, and a searing indictment of our culture of spectacle.

Talk show host Matthew Miller has made his fame by shining a spotlight on the most unlikely and bizarre secrets of society, exposing them on live television in front of millions of gawking viewers. However, the man behind The Mattie M Show remains a mystery - both to his enormous audience and to those who work alongside him every day. But when the high school students responsible for a mass shooting are found to be devoted fans, Mattie is thrust into the glare of public scrutiny, seen as the wry, detached herald of a culture going downhill and going way too far. Soon, the secrets of Mattie's past as a brilliant young politician in a crime-ridden New York City begin to push their way to the surface.

In her most daring and multidimensional novel yet, Jennifer duBois vividly portrays  the heyday of gay liberation in the seventies and the grip of the AIDS crisis in the eighties, alongside a backstage view of nineties television in an age of moral panic. DuBois explores an enigmatic man's downfall through the perspectives of two spectators - Cel, Mattie's skeptical publicist, and Semi, the disillusioned lover from his past. 

With wit, heart, and crackling intelligence, The Spectators examines the human capacity for reinvention - and forces us to ask ourselves what we choose to look at, and why.

Prologue
Semi
1969

For years, this is how we remembered the man who would be Mattie M: walking through Greenwich Village, hands shoved into pockets, leaving a contrail of energy in his wake. He was Matthew Miller then—Counselor M. Miller, Esq. to the courts; Mattias Milgrom to his parents. Matthew to a very, very few. They say he had the charisma of a Kennedy, and not without reason—though he didn't have the face of one, and doesn't now; he only appears mild and unshockable and impossible to rouse to fury, if you didn't know better. He had an inelegant, raccoonish walk he later unlearned for the cameras. But he also radiated a subtle electricity—something slight and untraceable that kinectified the air around him—and it was easy to mistake this, then, for the particular dynamism of compassion. Because compassion took work, he always said, and anyone who told you otherwise wasn't really trying to be good at it.

This quality, whatever it was, is entirely ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Spanning four decades and taking on a host of topical issues, from gun violence to the coarsening of public discourse, Jennifer duBois' latest novel The Spectators charts the rise and fall of an enigmatic politician-turned-talk-show-host. Broad in scope, the novel explores a seminal era in LGBTQ+ history with insight and intelligence—a sensitive portrayal of the devastation wrought by the AIDS epidemic.   (Reviewed by Michael Kaler).

Full Review Members Only (775 words).

Media Reviews

Lit Hub, "Most Anticipated Books of 2019"
Covering three decades of American culture, including the nineties pop culture wars and the AIDS crisis of the eighties to the liberated seventies, this may be duBois's most ambitious work yet.

Publishers Weekly
Though somewhat uneven, this is nevertheless a powerful novel.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Elegant, enigmatic, and haunting.

Booklist
"Starred Review. The Spectators is a beautifully written, even aphoristic novel ('promiscuity, like class, is a spectrum on which everybody claims the middle'), but its greatest strength is its characterization: Semi and his gay friends, Cel and her mother and grandfather, and, of course, the always enigmatic Mattie are brilliantly conceived and, like the novel in which they star, utterly unforgettable.

Author Blurb Karan Mahajan, author of the National Book Award finalist The Association of Small Bombs
The Spectators is yet another triumph in an impressive oeuvre: a brave and painfully vivid excavation of the AIDS crisis in New York that, with its fine prose, breathes life back into an era of death.

Author Blurb Kirstin Valdez Quade, author of Night at the Fiestas
Another breathtaking novel from one of our most brilliant writers ... The Spectators is a tense and propulsive exploration of how easily we can let our best intentions slip away. As secrets are uncovered, Jennifer duBois reminds us that to truly see, without apology or artifice, is itself an act of compassion. This novel pulses with intelligence and heart.

Author Blurb Mandy Berman, author of Perennials
The Spectators is Jennifer duBois's ambitious and assured novel that strives to answer the question: What tragedies deserve to be told? Each sentence is more beautiful than the next, every line of dialogue sharper and funnier. I savored it all.

Author Blurb Mary Helen Specht, author of Migratory Animals
A masterpiece, The Spectators is a thrilling high-wire act. Combining a symphonic structure with unflinching psychological insight, this gorgeous novel explores the ways in which we betray and redeem one another' - how we tell each other's stories and, in doing so, discover our own. Jennifer duBois is one of this generation's singular talents.

Author Blurb Deb Olin Unferth, author of Wait Till You See Me Dance
Every page is so brilliant, and every character so irreverent, that you'll hardly realize what you have in your hands is a passionate love story unfolding against the backdrop of a lost world. As you weave among ghosts, the witticisms turn into laments, then prayers, and through it all the writing is so damn good.

Author Blurb Karen Russell, author of Vampires in the Lemon Grove
This contemporary tragedy, shot through with comic energy and a quiet, radical hope, has arrived at precisely the right moment. Dubois is a brilliant writer, and I could read her sentences forever.

Author Blurb Xhenet Aliu, author ofBrass
The Spectators is a jarring reminder of a not-long-ago paradigm in which we could be shocked and shamed by daytime talk shows and mass shootings, when America still put its collective cultural faith in art and entertainment at the seeming genesis of it all: New York City. Only a writer with the easy, exquisite intellect of Jennifer duBois could render the slow debasement of individuals and the groups they comprise with such authenticity and compassion, and make the experience of reading it all such a pleasure. I was awed and humbled by every page.

Author Blurb Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans
Jennifer duBois is a wonderful writer - funny and humane, generous and wise - and her newest novel, The Spectators, is a searing and moving examination of our culture's obsession with celebrity and the public persona. With penetrating wit and psychological acuity, duBois has created one of the most complicated and memorable characters I've read in years... A brilliant and propulsive book' - I loved it.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Changing Sentiments on Gun Control After Parkland

Protesters at the March for Our Lives in Washington, including Emma GonzalezJennifer duBois' The Spectators is centered around the fallout after a mass shooting at a school, an incident that was rare in the 1990s when the novel takes place, but has become seemingly ubiquitous over the past two decades (See School Shootings & Conspiracy Theories for statistics). Each of these shootings is accompanied by a public outcry, yet no meaningful gun control legislation has been passed. In the past two years, however, anti-gun protests have begun to reach a fever pitch.

A slew of signs suggest that the public increasingly favors stricter gun laws. According to a survey Pew Research Center conducted late last year, almost six in ten Americans believe that the nation's gun laws are too lax. A Navigator report also found ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by Jennifer duBois

If you liked The Spectators, try these:

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Let's Call It a Doomsday
    Let's Call It a Doomsday
    by Katie Henry
    However the world will end, Ellis Kimball is ready for it. Her obsessive stash of survivalist ...
  • Book Jacket: The Winemaker's Wife
    The Winemaker's Wife
    by Kristin Harmel
    Liv Kent's world is falling apart. After 12 years of marriage, her husband has decided he's done, ...
  • Book Jacket: On the Clock
    On the Clock
    by Emily Guendelsberger
    In her excellent debut, On The Clock, journalist Emily Guendelsberger thoughtfully examines the ...
  • Book Jacket
    America for Beginners
    by Leah Franqui
    Leah Franqui's first novel America for Beginners was well-reviewed by our First Impression readers; ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Yale Needs Women
    by Anne Gardiner Perkins


    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Secrets We Kept
    by Lara Prescott

    Reese Witherspoon's Sept Book Club Pick!
    "This is the rare page-turner with prose that’s as wily as its plot."—EW
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
by Kim Michele Richardson

A story of raw courage, fierce strength, and one woman's belief that books can carry us anywhere.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win The Red Address Book

The Red Address Book
by Sofia Lundberg

"Wise and captivating, Lundberg's novel offers clear-eyed insights into old age and the solace of memory."--People

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A Place F E A E I I P

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.