Advertisement

Book Review: ‘Spectacle’ by Susan Steinberg

  • 18
    Shares

Spectacle

Susan Steinberg, Graywolf Press

Mission Creek Festival: Lit Walk Round #2

RSVP — Friday, April 5 at 6 p.m.


Susan Steinberg’s Spectacle collects 12 short stories bound within a slim, 135-page volume. Despite Spectacle’s brevity, due in no small part to Steinberg’s impressive economy of language, several of the stories are so emotionally weighty, readers may feel the need to rest before moving onto the next.

The best of Steinberg’s tales revolve around themes of disconnected youth, familial miscommunication and the tragic power of identity to at once elevate and also obliterate the humanity we see in others. The sex, drugs and violence that serve as the impetus for these stories are rarely shown, but their crushing impact is tangible and always present. Steinberg’s narrators, all young women, struggle internally with external pressures of power and privilege while also contending with their own hedonistic youthful instincts, which further complicate the respective narratives.

Spectacle’s most immediately arresting feature is its prose, which umpteen other reviews have described as “experimental.” To be sure, Steinberg has chosen an interesting method to tell her stories: a stilted, repetitive style that actually serves most of her narrators quite well. Their recursive self-scrutiny, bordering on obsession, teases out little haunting details that stuck with me long after I’d finished reading.

This isn’t to say that everything in Spectacle is moving or important. But at her best, Steinberg is a writer who transcends story and style and simply engulfs readers in the kind of raw, unhinged, emotional vulnerability some may not have felt since junior high school or their first day in the working world or any other day we live collectively that is more performative than perfunctory.

What’s most important about Spectacle is not the spectacular events that drive Steinberg’s narrators toward a kind of vivisection (by way of self-scrutiny). Instead, the spectacle is introspection itself — an internal magnification like reading glasses for the psyche. It is precisely what these women choose to focus on, and what they willfully ignore, that makes Spectacle such an interesting and powerful read.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 261.


  • 18
    Shares

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Advertisement

A collaboration between The Englert Theatre and FilmScene

STRENGTHEN
GROW•EVOLVE

Help us build the greatest small city for the arts in America—right here in Iowa City. Learn more »

Donate Today

Strengthen • Grow • Evolve is a collaborative campaign led by two Iowa City-based arts nonprofits, The Englert Theatre and FilmScene that seeks a major reinvestment to strengthen the arts through modern and historic venues, innovative programming, and new models of collaboration.

For 18 years...

Little Village has been telling the truth and changing our little corner of the world.

If you can, help us head into the next 18 years even stronger with a one-time or monthly contribution of $18, or any amount you choose.

Advertisement

Scattergood Friends Middle School Meet & Greet

Come and visit us at the Iowa City Holiday Farmers Market and the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center on Saturday, November 16.

Learn More
Event Details

Iowa City Farmers Market
November 16
10 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Robert A. Lee Rec Center

Little Village
2019 Give Guide

Get to know some of the nonprofits helping to make the CRANDIC a better place to live.