The Spectators

Random. Apr. 2019. 352p. ISBN 9780812995886. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780812995893. F
What causes a socially conscious public defender and burgeoning New York City politician to reinvent himself as the crass host of a reality television program designed to showcase our basest instincts? And what do we make of the 16 million spectators who thrill to the staged fights and tearful confessions on The Mattie M Show? DuBois (Cartwheel) takes readers on a trip from the late Sixties gay liberation movement, through the AIDS scourge in the Eighties, to the Nineties, when a mass school shooting still had the power to shock. Two narrators, Semi, a gay playwright and Matthew Miller's former lover, and Cel, Mattie's hapless publicist, attempt to unravel the mystery of the man whose public persona differs wildly from his private one. Dubois's writing is most powerful when channeling Semi, who rages against the disease that decimates the gay community, lamenting the exhaustion of caregiving, the weight of grief, and the resentment toward those who, like Mattie, are spared yet stay silent. Only years later, when fans of Mattie's show are blamed for an act of violence, will he take a stab at redemption.
VERDICT A Whiting Award winner and Pen/Hemingway nominee, duBois writes an especially timely novel exploring the power of the media to foment chaos and the culpability of the public that validates the discord by watching. [See Prepub Alert, 10/8/18.]

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