The Spectacular
June 28, 2023

Book Review

The Spectacular

reviewed by Cara DiCostanzo


Whatever you do, don’t play it safe. Don’t do things the way they’ve always been done. Don’t try to fit the system. If you do what’s expected of you, you’ll never accomplish more than others expect. – Author: Howard Schultz

Marion Brooks dreams of being a famous dancer but her father Simon thinks she should marry her longtime beau Nathaniel and become a wife and mother. At 19, she sees her whole life ahead of her which does not immediately include getting married and settling down. Her sister Judy lives with Marion and her father, content to be her Father’s secretary at Metropolitan power. When she inadvertently discovers that her deceased mother dreamed of being an actress but chose a life of marriage and children.  

After Marion is fired from her job as a dance teacher at a prestigious school in Manhattan, she learns that there are auditions to be a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall. She knows she has very little chance of being hired so she doesn’t tell anyone, especially her Father. When Marion is chosen, she can’t believe it, but she knows she has to tell her Father. The rehearsals are grueling. The Rockettes perform 4 shows a day and each show is 90 minutes. They work for three weeks and have one week off. When she tells Simon she is to be a Rockette, he reacts angrily and kicks her out of the house. Luckily she finds a residential hall in Manhattan for women pursuing the arts. 

Marion’s roommate at the residential hall and fellow dancer, Bunny, introduces her to Peter Griggs on a double date. Dr. Griggs is a psychiatric resident at a local hospital. Peter’s specialty is using information about a person’s past, upbringing, childhood, anything that’s happened to them to cause mental trauma and use that information to “profile” a person. She finds Peter fascinating though a little standoffish.  

For sixteen years the “Big Apple Bomber” has been terrorizing New York, planting bombs all over the city in crowded places. A letter blaming Met Power, the company that Marion’s father has worked at for his entire career usually accompanies the incidents. One night a bomb explodes in Radio City Music Hall, killing a young woman instantly. Marion is sure she saw a suspicious man sitting in the front row and she tells the police. When they don’t seem to locate the bomber, she calls Peter Griggs who can profile the killer. At first the police are very skeptical about letting Dr. Griggs look at the evidence, with another close call and the pressure on them to find the “Big Apple Bomber” they finally listen to Dr. Griggs. 

The Spectacular is well..spectacular. Fiona Davis has combined mystery, history, a love story combined with a coming of age saga into one incredible book. This novel is told in two different times, beginning when Marion is packing up her home in the 1980s after deciding to move to a nursing home to better handle her Parkinson’s disease but also in the early 1950s where she is a young dancer with a dream. The narrative of this amazing book looks at 1950s New York and the earlier days of being a Rockette but also the true story of George Metesky, the mad bomber. He was an American mechanic who terrorized New York City for 16 years, planting explosives in theaters, terminals, libraries and offices. All because he was resentful about a workplace injury almost two decades before.  

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