The Spectators: Coming April 2019

A Library Journal Pre-Publication Editors Pick


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 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 to 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.


“Jennifer duBois is one of a handful of living American novelists who can comprehend both the long arc of history and the minute details that animate it. 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.”
— Karan Mahajan, author of National Book Award finalist, The Association of Small Bombs
“Another breathtaking novel from one of our most brilliant writers . . . No one writes about the contradictions of American society and the foibles of the human heart with such incisive wit and sensitivity. 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.”
— Kirstin Valdez Quade, author of Night at the Fiestas
“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 each other—how we tell each other’s stories and, in doing so, discover our own. Jennifer Dubois is one of this generation’s singular talents.”
— Mary Helen Specht, author of Migratory Animals
“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.”
— Deb Olin Unferth, author of Wait Till You See Me Dance
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 and 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.”
— Xhenet Aliu, author of Brass
“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.”
— Molly Antopol, author of TheUnAmericans