#42: The Spectacular
On motherhood and abortion
Let me say right off the bat that this week’s book rec isn’t quite as queer as what you may have come to expect from this newsletter. Though two of the three women at its center do have queer relationships (or at least experiences) at some point, their relationships are mostly with cis men.
The focus of the story, though, is motherhood: what it means to be a good mother, the ways in which mothering can be at odds with a person’s own needs, and, importantly, the decision not to be a mother.
I was roughly halfway through the book when I got a notification about the Mississippi abortion case that could result in the repeal of Roe v. Wade. If overturned, abortion access could effectively end in 22 states.
If you’re able to donate, now is a great time to send some cash to abortion funds, especially in states where access is likely to become extremely difficult. Fund Texas Choice is always a good choice, and abortionfunds.org is a helpful resource for locating and donating to independent, local funds.
The Spectacular by Zoe Whittall
The Spectacular kicks off in 1997, with punk rock cellist Missy Alamo pushing her way through a crowd of anti-abortion protestors at a clinic. She’s there to try to get her tubes tied ahead of a nationwide tour with her band, so she can experience the same sexual freedom as her male bandmates without the looming fear of pregnancy.
Meanwhile, Missy’s mother Carola is being interviewed as part of an investigation into a yoga sex cult. As she sits in the waiting room, she sees the daughter she abandoned 10 years ago on TV, performing with her band on a late-night show.
Alternating between the two women’s perspectives, we see Missy love and leave men (and one woman) all over the country, in between sometimes coke-fueled performances. We see Carola reflect on her now-over marriage, the time she spent building an “intentional community” in her 20s, and her decision to leave her husband and daughter in pursuit of self-discovery.
Roughly midway through the book, we also see Missy’s paternal grandmother Ruth work through a small list of tasks in preparation for the end of her life. One of these is reuniting Missy and Carola.
Though the three women rarely interact, and certainly don’t confide in one another, their stories each contain echoes of the others. And without giving too much away, each of them face at some point an unwanted pregnancy.
In the hands of a less skilled author, this could’ve come across as a melodramatic tale, proselytizing on the moral value of abortion access. But with Missy, Carola, and Ruth at the forefront, it’s more complex than that. It’s a story of three very different women attempting to shape the lives they want, and the decision to have children (or not) is only one piece of the puzzle.
I do have my qualms with the book, particularly the second half. I also rolled my eyes a bit at Missy’s absolutely rapturous first sexual experience with a woman, followed by her decision to only date cis men for the next few decades. But I suppose denial is a very real thing.
Anyway, it’s a plot-driven and fairly fast-moving novel, and a solid choice next time you’re looking for a relatively easy read. Or, if you’re feeling bold this holiday season, give it as a gift to a “pro-life” family member. Could be fun.
+4 for an all-dyke riot grrl band
+5 for commune lesbians
Buy it on Bookshop