It’s taboo to regret motherhood. But what would happen if you did? Shifting perspectives and time periods, The Spectacular is a multi-generational story exploring sexuality, gender and the weight of reproductive freedoms, from the author of The Best Kind of People
It’s 1997 and Missy’s band has finally hit the big time as they tour across America. At age twenty-two, Missy gets on stage every night and plays the song about her absent mother that made the band famous. The only girl in the band, she’s determined to party just as hard as everyone else, loving and leaving someone in every town—until she’s left stranded at the border because of a forgotten party favour.
Forty-something Carola is just surfacing from a sex scandal at the yoga centre where she has been living when she sees her daughter, Missy, for the first time in ten years—on the cover of a music magazine.
Ruth, eighty-three, is planning her return to the Turkish seaside village where she spent her childhood. But when her granddaughter, Missy, crashes at her house, she decides it’s time the strong and stubborn women in her family find a way to understand one another again.
In this book, by turns sharp and provocative, Zoe Whittall captures three generations of very different women who struggle to build an authentic life in the absence of traditional familial and marital structures. Definitions of family, romance, gender and love will radically change as they seek out lives that are nothing less than spectacular.
About the author
ZOE WHITTALL’s third novel, The Best Kind of People is currently being adapted for limited series by director Sarah Polley. It was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, named Indigo’s #1 Book of 2016, a Heather’s Pick and a Best Book of the Year by the Walrus, the Globe and Mail, Toronto Life and the National Post. Her second novel, Holding Still for as Long as Possible, won a Lambda Literary Award for trans fiction and was an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book. Her debut novel, Bottle Rocket Hearts, won the Dayne Ogilvie Prize and is being adapted for screen. In 2014 Whittall sold her first sitcom, Breaking, to CTV, and recently optioned the half-hour comedy Wellville to CBC. She has worked as a TV writer on the Emmy Award–winning comedy Schitt’s Creek and the Baroness Von Sketch Show, for which she won a 2018 Canadian Screen Award. She has written three volumes of poetry, most recently an anniversary reissue of The Emily Valentine Poems, about which Eileen Myles said, “I would like to know everything about this person.” Zoe Whittall was born on a sheep farm in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, has an MFA from the University of Guelph and has called Toronto home since 1997.
- Unknown, CBC Books Best of Canadian Fiction
- Unknown, Xtra: Best queer and trans books of the year
“What an honor and privilege to read a book that so fiercely wants to be read. Zoe Whittall's The Spectacular is rangy and deft, weaving three character threads together in a dexterous series of twists that left me excited for more. I found myself deeply attached to the women of this book and their relationships with one another. Whittall addresses motherhood and autonomy in ways I've never seen done before. A fascinating stunner of a novel, The Spectacular is exactly that: spectacular!” — Kristen Arnett, author of With Teeth
“Zoe Whittall's engrossing and epic novel paints an indelible portrait of three women, each of them navigating the complex constraints of their bodies, their families, their obligations, and their desires. A daring and beautiful examination of motherhood, The Spectacular left me breathless.” — Robin Wasserman, author of Mother Daughter Widow Wife
“Both raw and refined, The Spectacular is an insightful, poignant exploration of family and relationships from one of my favorite writers working today. A multi-generational story that’s fully alive.” — Iain Reid, author of I’m Thinking of Ending Things
“Birth, identity, sex, what a woman wants, the vagaries of desire, love nibbling at the heart, independence, forfeiture of self, mother. Zoe Whittall carves at all of this with her pen and lays it out on the page in this fierce and tender novel.” — David Bergen, author of Here the Dark
“Fearless, challenging, epic—these are all words I have been using to describe The Spectacular, Zoe Whittall’s latest novel about three generations of women who are tied together by family obligations and a crooked connection to motherhood. Ruth, Carola, and especially Missy crackle off the pages, sometimes prickly, often uncertain, but always searching for a happiness that is bound by the expectations of becoming a mother and the resentments that follow. Fiction often teaches us truths, and The Spectacular does just that, laying bare the ways in which women are defined and the ways in which women can define themselves.” — Jen Sookfong Lee, author of The Conjoined
“Zoe Whittall's The Spectacular is such a fun read. It sizzles with women's desire -- for success, fulfillment, distraction, drugs, sex, love, care. The worlds Whittall's characters inhabit - a former ashram, a commune, the indie rock scene of the 1990s - are alive with meaning. Witnessing the women in this novel connect, miss each other, and try to figure one another out is a joyful and tender experience. The Spectacular is... what can I say, spectacular!” — Ilana Masad, All My Mother’s Lovers
"The Spectacular gives us three brilliantly distinct voices of women challenging the societal expectations of who they should be. This is a novel about how we learn to define who we are, about the courage to make decisions nobody will understand, and about the profound complexities of maternal ambivalence. Zoe Whittall has a gift for vividly capturing our human behaviours, and for dialogue that will grab your heart. Both expansive and intimate, wild and tender, I loved it." — Ashley Audrain, author of The Push
"The Spectacular is a lush, sweeping novel that excavates the maternal layers of a family's genealogy to breathtaking, surprising ends. This book will leave you with a brilliant roar inside your chest -- Whittall's prose is afire with the most complex and daring forms of empathy." — Alissa Nutting, author of Made for Love
"Zoe Whittall has this incredible ability to go straight at the honest emotional heart of a story, and yet even with that ferocity, her writing is always graceful, a total joy to read. It makes it so easy to love her characters. In the best books characters feel like my friends, but with the mothers of The Spectacular, they came to feel like my family." — Torrey Peters, author of Detransition, Baby
“[A] totally absorbing contemporary epic with characters and social worlds that are Edith Wharton-level dimensional, but as relatable as your own uncannily recognizable self. . . . The Spectacular lets us fully inhabit the historical moment of the 90s by drawing exquisite threads forward and back in time, creating a broad, deep landscape - a matriarchal counter-history. As with all of her works, Zoe Whittall is, yet again and even more spectacularly, a consummate, generous novelist whose immensely assured prose is a gift to her readers.” — Jordy Rosenberg, author of Confessions of the Fox
“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 (particularly in Missy’s storyline) of powerful joy and (mostly in Juniper’s sections) 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.” — Toronto Star
“[G]ritty, raw, and unapologetic, [Whittall] builds strong female protagonists who seem largely unconcerned with how others expect them to behave. There is a strong focus on sexuality, gender fluidity, and free love, but the book also explores themes of motherhood and family responsibility. . . . An entertaining story that is equal parts family saga and cultural indictment.” — Kirkus Reviews
"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." — Publishers Weekly
“A gorgeous, aching family saga that sweeps through decades, this book touches brilliantly on motherhood, womanhood, family, singledom, and every kind of aging.” — Chatelaine
“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.” — Associated Press
“Read this book if you like stories with strong female leads. Read this book if you want a book about unconventional parenting. Read this book if you are interested in intergenerational relationships and the effect of past trauma. Whittall has delivered a compelling and engaging text which will leave you with the satisfaction only found in great storytelling.” — Sherbrooke Record
"A competent and highly readable testament to the strength of the maternal bond." — New York Times
“Whittall’s knockout novel is a multigenerational riot of grrrlhood and womanhood, a brisk and wistful tour through the ambivalence of responsibility.” — Oprah Daily
“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. . . . In Whittall’s smart and capable hands, these unconventional women are given the space to experience their full, complicated lives.” — BookPage
“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.” — PureWow