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Reviews of Booth by Karen Joy Fowler

Booth

by Karen Joy Fowler

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler X
Booth by Karen Joy Fowler
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2022, 480 pages

    Paperback:
    Feb 2023, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the Man Booker finalist and bestselling author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves comes an epic and intimate novel about the family behind one of the most infamous figures in American history: John Wilkes Booth.

In 1822, a secret family moves into a secret cabin some thirty miles northeast of Baltimore, to farm, to hide, and to bear ten children over the course of the next sixteen years. Junius Booth—breadwinner, celebrated Shakespearean actor, and master of the house in more ways than one—is at once a mesmerizing talent and a man of terrifying instability. One by one the children arrive, as year by year, the country draws frighteningly closer to the boiling point of secession and civil war.

As the tenor of the world shifts, the Booths emerge from their hidden lives to cement their place as one of the country's leading theatrical families. But behind the curtains of the many stages they have graced, multiple scandals, family triumphs, and criminal disasters begin to take their toll, and the solemn siblings of John Wilkes Booth are left to reckon with the truth behind the destructively specious promise of an early prophecy.

Booth is a startling portrait of a country in the throes of change and a vivid exploration of the ties that make, and break, a family.

ROSALIE
i
The Living:

Rosalie, the oldest daughter, is sitting on the steps that lead down to Beech Spring, watching her baby brother and sister make boats out of leaves. She is thinking of Ophelia, drifting in her sodden gown, her hair spread over the water, her face surrounded by flowers. She is dreaming of what it would be like to be beautiful and dead.

The month is March, the year 1838. In July, Rosalie will be fifteen years old. She finds Love Tragic easier to imagine (and honestly more satisfying) than Love Triumphant.

Rosalie is neither dead nor beautiful though the first is easier for her to imagine than the second. She resembles her father and her older brother, but in miniature, and with little feminizing of their features. Reclusive, reticent, stocky, she is not witty and graceful like the rest. Nothing is expected of her, except that she be a good girl and a help to her mother. She wants little attention and gets less – the most unremarkable child in this remarkable ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Booth is a story about John Wilkes Booth, an infamous figure in American history. But Karen Joy Fowler doesn't center the narrative on John, instead choosing to tell the story of the Booth family, from the struggles of his parents to his many siblings. Why do you think Fowler chose to write this story in this way?
  2. Fowler's last book, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, was organized around a secret—a secret that the characters know but the reader does not. Booth is organized around something the reader knows but the characters do not. How did your awareness of Lincoln's assassination impact your reading?
  3. The Booths live in a two-story, two-room log cabin miles from any major city. How are the Booths perceived in their insular ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

There are plenty of dramatic moments, but the extended timeline means there is also some skating over of long periods. Booth is low on scenes and dialogue, with Fowler conveying a lot of information through exposition. Luckily, the present-tense narration goes a long way toward making this less of a dull group biography and more of an unfolding story. I also appreciated that Rosalie and the other Booth sister, Asia, are given major roles as point-of-view characters. Truth is stranger than fiction, the old saying goes. That's the case with the Booth family for sure...continued

Full Review (772 words)

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(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Media Reviews

Entertainment Weekly
It's been nine years since we had a new Karen Joy Fowler novel... . It's definitely one we deserve.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Ostensibly about the family of Shakespearean actors best known for their connection to Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth, Fowler's novel explores tensions surrounding race, politics, and culture in 19th-century America...The historical context she offers is of a pre–Civil War America of deep moral divides, political differences tearing close families apart, populism and fanaticism run amok. The similarities to today are riveting and chilling.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[R]azor-sharp...Fowler sets the stage in remarkable prose, and...subtly conveys the depth of her characters...Throughout, the nuanced plot is both historically rigorous and richly imagined. This is a winner.

Booklist
Fowler presents an omniscient, bird's-eye view of these lives, along with a nod to what could be apocryphal. The result is an engrossing portrayal of a nineteenth-century family living through the U.S.' most turbulent era.

Author Blurb Neel Mukherjee, author of A State of Freedom
Like Tolstoy before her, and Natalia Ginzburg, Karen Joy Fowler understands that the only way to write about history is as clattery, complex dramas of ordinary people and their families—they become the stuff of history later. Booth is a subtly devastating meditation...Its world—dense, granular, intricate—is created with immense care and precision, and rendered in prose of limpid, lyrical beauty. This is her finest, most beautiful novel to date.

Author Blurb Ruth Ozeki, author of A Tale for the Time Being
Booth is a triumph! No one writes like Karen Joy Fowler, and in this gripping family saga, she has taken a piece of American history we thought we knew and told it slant. With wit, heart, and revelatory insight, she teases ghosts from their shadows, transforming the way we see the past, shedding new light on our troubled present.

Reader Reviews

Cathryn Conroy

Original, Imaginative and Ingeniously Plotted: A Riveting Story That Is Also a Warning for Our Times
A warning. That is what this book is. A chilling, daunting and, perhaps, prophetic warning. And you don't even have to be a particularly astute reader to see that. This is the personal life story of one of the most despised and reviled assassins ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Booth Family and Shakespeare in the 19th Century United States

Black-and-white photo of John Wilkes Booth (left) with brothers Edwin and Junius Jr. performing Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in 1864 Karen Joy Fowler's Booth features several characters who are Shakespearean actors, starting with Junius Brutus Booth, who was born in England in 1796 and emigrated to the United States in 1821. He managed the Adelphi Theatre in Baltimore in the 1830s and also toured internationally, becoming very well-known in the U.S. and abroad. All told, he featured in almost 3,000 stage performances. His son Edwin would go on to be lauded as one of the greatest American actors of the 19th century, especially noted for his role as Hamlet. Older son Junius Booth Jr. was an actor in his own right, as well as a theater director.

The first known U.S. performance of Shakespeare was in 1730: an amateur production of Romeo and Juliet in New York City. ...

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