That the man at the center of Jennifer duBois’s novel “The Spectators” bears a more-than-passing resemblance to ’90s trash television icon Jerry Springer is no accident. The idea first came to the Western Massachusetts native and Texas State professor while listening to an episode of “This American Life” about the controversial talk-show host and his pre-TV life as a promising young politician, before his future in that field was derailed by a sex scandal.
“I was interested in that trajectory of how somebody could change so profoundly,” duBois said. “And in how somebody who had actually endured public shaming in a pretty nasty form went on to then kind of traffic in that later in his career.” In “The Spectators,” the Springer-like character’s evolution is witnessed in two sections, one featuring his cynical young publicist in the 1990s, the other voiced by the man who loves him at a time when gay men in New York were beginning to confront the AIDS epidemic.
“I thought it would be interesting to follow the story through at least one lens through somebody who really loved this man, really idealizes him,” duBois said. She researched the era from Stonewall through the Ed Koch administration, from gay liberation to the plague’s horror.
She was sensitive to writing a history not her own. “When I start to write, I don’t feel overly constrained by those outward concerns about what people will think,” she said. “At the end of the day, my primary concern was creating a cast of characters that feel alive and truly singular. I’m not telling the story of the AIDS crisis by any means. I’m telling the story of this one man that I made up, and hopefully he seems like a real voice and like a real person and someone you believe in.”
DuBois will read 7 p.m. Tuesday at Newtonville Books.Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.