Jennifer duBois's The Spectators presents one enigmatic man, Matthew Miller, through the perspectives of two very different people: his estranged male lover and his publicity assistant on his TV talk show. Semi, who knew Miller as an altruistic, political hopeful in 1970s New York, grapples with the aftermath of the AIDS epidemic and his own survivor's guilt. Meanwhile Cel attempts to cope with the fact that a recent school shooter connected his actions to the public's obsession with The Mattie M Show, the reality show she works for. As Semi tries to recover his lost, exuberant youth and Cel struggles to find her way as a 20-something in an unforgiving city, the reader is left to wonder how Semi's idealistic ex-lover could become the opaque host of the decade's most controversial and sensational show.
While never shortchanging the intimate insights of her two primary characters, duBois manages to use these same perspectives to paint a kaleidoscopic portrait of New York City. Semi and Cel are well-crafted individuals who are clearly products of their times and peers. DuBois excels in recognizing them as more than just vehicles through which Matthew Miller can be realized. Nevertheless, these two perspectives illustrate more than just one man; in fact, it is in telling the story of their involvement with this man that Cel and Semi are ultimately able to sketch the emotionally poignant, nostalgically haunting parameters of New York City itself. This feat is made possible by duBois's breathtaking prose that, particularly in Semi's sections, renders the reader nostalgic for something they may never have experienced, and which may not yet have even ended. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor