Zoe Whittall’s taut novel The Spectacular has all the trappings to become the season’s dishiest read. It’s also a gem of literary fiction ... The plot of The Spectacular isn’t clearly defined; all three women’s stories connect at certain points, and the narrative jumps forward and backward in time. But this is not a typical sprawling family drama, and in Whittall’s smart and capable hands, these unconventional women are given the space to experience their full, complicated lives. Whittall takes the long view with this multigenerational arc to explore the responsibilities of motherhood, the boundaries of biology and the price for women’s freedom to live fully actualized lives.
Shifting between the characters, and moving easily through multiple time frames...Whittall vividly captures the breadth of a family’s experiences, but that breadth is a means to an end: she is able to not only explore generational trauma, but also dissect the impact of nurture (and the lack thereof) over time ... The Spectacular is a deeply thoughtful, deeply felt novel, ceaselessly questioning and genuinely empathetic to its characters’ actions. What should not be overlooked, however, is how fun it is, with moments...of powerful joy and...wicked, almost black humour ... Whittall...brings all of her talents to bear on her new novel, and the result is a singularly impressive piece of fiction.
It’s..worth praising Whittall’s fearlessness in addressing the very real (but infrequently talked about) idea that not every person with a uterus is cut out to be a mother—and there’s no shame in admitting, or acting upon, that fact ... An occasionally melancholy, often darkly comedic story from a sharply talented writer, The Spectacular is a vibrant homage to living life on your own terms.
The Spectacular is an homage to womanhood, motherhood, sexuality and queerness as it chronicles the lives of three ferociously strong protagonists who are wildly different from one another. The first half is chock-full of action, drama, energy, and excitement. The characters are beautifully flawed and so alive as they all scramble through life searching for happiness. In the second half, that energy dissipates a bit ... Nevertheless, once you settle in to the time jump, it becomes a compelling exploration of what happens when we grow older and are still desperately searching for what we want.
[A] raw, thought-provoking study of the relationships between mothers and daughters ... The story is told in distinctive alternating voices, demonstrating how both Missy and Carola have chosen lives that defy what is expected of them ... Readers will be immersed in the lives of all three women.
Whittall delivers a clear-eyed portrait of maternal ambivalence in her impressive latest ... Whittall is excellent at writing the small, intimate details and sharp dialogue, as well as the mostly propulsive plot, while making no bones about opinions on gender inequities. Whittall is a great storyteller, and her latest does not disappoint.
As the book toggles among the first-person perspectives of the three women, the narrative voice deftly changes to reflect each woman’s distinct personality. In a narrative that is gritty, raw, and unapologetic, the author builds strong female protagonists who seem largely unconcerned with how others expect them to behave ... The author plays with time, weaving past and present in a way that sometimes works beautifully but at other times creates confusion. Even so, the characters and their unabashed determination to live life on their own terms are sufficiently compelling to keep readers turning the page. An entertaining story that is equal parts family saga and cultural indictment.