A flailing commune. A lead singer of a touring rock band. Sex, drugs and then even more sex and drugs. 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.
Whittall, a poet and novelist who has also been a writer on the sitcom “Schitt’s Creek,” introduces three women with very different plans for their lives. Missy is a 20-something rock star with a penchant for drugs and a love’em-and-leave’em attitude toward men. Early in The Spectacular, she is upset to learn that she is pregnant. Carola, Missy’s mother, has provided maternal succor to many, first at a hippie commune and later at a yoga ashram. But she struggles to show up for her own daughter and, in many ways, to show up for herself. Finally there’s Ruth, Carola’s mother-in-law, whose sacrifices as a young immigrant in Canada set the stage for her family’s life.
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.