Synopses & Reviews
An inventive new collection from the author of Hydroplane and The End of Free Love
* A San Francisco Chronicle, Complex, Flavorwire, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Largehearted Boy and Slaughterhouse 90210 Best Book of the Year *
In these innovative linked stories, women confront loss and grief as they sift through the wreckage of their lives. In the title story, a woman struggles with the death of her friend in a plane crash. A daughter decides whether to take her father off life support in the Pushcart Prize-winning “Cowboys.” And in “Underthings,” when a man hits his girlfriend, she calls it an accident. Spectacle bears witness to alarming and strange incidents: carnival rides and plane crashes, affairs spied through keyholes and amateur porn, vandalism and petty theft. These wounded women stand at the edge of disaster and risk it all to speak their sharpest secrets.
In lean, acrobatic prose, Susan Steinberg subverts assumptions about narrative and challenges conventional gender roles. She delivers insight with a fierce lyric intensity in sentences shorn of excessive sentiment or unnecessary ornament. By fusing style and story, Steinberg amplifies the connections between themes and characters so that each devastating revelation echoes throughout the collection. A vital and turbulent book from a distinctive voice, Spectacle will break your heart, and then, before the last page is turned, will bind it up anew.
“Experimental but never opaque, Steinbergs stories seethe with real and imagined menace.” —Publishers Weekly
"Steinberg's newest collection defies category. The book could be called 'linked short stories,' but unlike other collections that attempt this, the whole here is much, much greater than the sum of its parts. Narrated entirely by women whose voices merge, divide, recur, and dissipate into one another, it feels like a solid statement, novelistic in scope and ambition. Steinberg (Hydroplane) is a maestro of stylistic innovation, conducting orbits of narrative and motif, coaxing meaning and music from each line. In the opener, 'Superstar,' a woman steals a car stereo from a man who is the center of her conflicted infatuation. There are echoes of this voice in the Pushcart-winning 'Cowboys' in a woman's blunt thought processes as she considers taking her father off life support. In both stories, sentences most often stand alone as paragraphs, creating an urgent and fiercely propelled narrative. In 'Underthings' a woman rationalizes her boyfriend's physical abuse into an accident, while in 'Signifier' the narrator observes herself sleeping with her lover's friend: 'I wish I could give you a climactic moment. But there is no climactic moment in this. There is no such thing here as climactic. In a story about a hike, there is only circling around and around.' What one realizes as the collection continues is, despite the stylistic differences between stories, at the center of each is the same unnamed woman, constantly set against male counterparts: abusive or aloof boyfriends, a controlling and damaged father, a hostile brother. Steinberg subverts the feminist critique of women identified only by their male-counterparts and delivers a multifaceted female protagonist who whispers her secrets, shouts her confusions, and rends her relationships to find some meaning in the wreckage. With its literary inventions and sharp storytelling, this is a masterpiece of contemporary short fiction." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Susan Steinberg is the author of the short-story collections Hydroplane and The End of Free Love. She was the 2010 United States Artists Ziporyn Fellow in Literature. Her stories have appeared in McSweeneys, Conjunctions, The Gettysburg Review, American Short Fiction, Boulevard, and The Massachusetts Review, and she is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize. She has held residencies at the MacDowell Colony, the Vermont Studio Center, the Wurlitzer Foundation, the Blue Mountain Center, Yaddo, and New York University. She has a BFA in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art and an MFA in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She teaches at the University of San Francisco.