Reviews for Booth : a novel

Publishers Weekly
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The Booth in the title of Booker-shortlisted Fowler’s razor-sharp latest (after We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves) is John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln’s assassin. The author approaches “Johnny” obliquely, through his family circle in Maryland. Booth’s father, Junius Brutus Booth, is a Shakespearean actor whose masterly Richard III and “towering genius” are offset by episodes of “mad freaks.” (He’s also a drunken failure of a father.) Cycles of depression triggered by Junius’s endless indiscretions and prolonged absences define Booth’s mother. Three siblings in this theatrical family are central: eldest sister Rosalie is “painfully shy” and has scoliosis; brother Edwin, like Junius a “star” actor, is prone to drink; and beautiful sister Asia is “strong and stormy,” “ice and iron.” Others, such as the Halls—a Black family, some of whom are free and others enslaved—also play parts. All illuminate the depressingly bizarre rearing of Johnny and the disgruntled, attention-seeking actor he becomes. As Congress passes the 13th amendment to abolish slavery and General Lee surrenders, Booth’s acting career falters and his Southern sympathies rise, building toward the fateful night that will forever define him and his family. Fowler sets the stage in remarkable prose, and in her account of the Booth family’s move from rural Maryland to Baltimore in 1846 (“Instead of frogs, choruses of drunks sing on the street after dark. Instead of birdcalls, factory whistles”), she subtly conveys the depth of her characters, noting that Johnny, at seven, takes on the “city name” Wilkes. Throughout, the nuanced plot is both historically rigorous and richly imagined. This is a winner. (Mar.)


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Ostensibly about the family of Shakespearean actors best known for their connection to Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth, Fowlers novel explores tensions surrounding race, politics, and culture in 19th-century America.Given his upbringing in a vegetarian, strongly anti-slavery, highly literate, freethinking household that even today would be labeled bohemian, how did John became a pro-slavery, pro-secessionist fanatic capable of terrorist murder? And how did his actions affect his surviving family? Alcoholic, eccentrically idealistic Junius Booth is a major star on the British stage when he and his wife, Mary, run away to rural Maryland while he is still married to another woman. Of their 10 offspring, six survive past early childhood. Bright oldest daughter Rosalie dotes on charming Johnny but is keenly perceptive about his weaknesses. (In a heartbreaking depiction of Victorian womens limited options, Rosalies own sparkle fades into genteel alcoholism after she's forced to forego education and marriage and become the family caregiver.) Brother Edwin is quiet, responsible, maybe even dull compared to charismatic John, but despite sharing the family addiction to alcohol, Edwin has the discipline, intelligence, and talent that John lacks to succeed as an actor. To his ownand Johns resentfulsurprise, Edwin becomes Americas foremost actor, maintaining his prestige despite his brothers infamy. Staunchly abolitionist and pro-union, Edwin, who once saved Robert Lincolns life, and Rosalie are increasingly aghast at Johns increasingly crazed behavior and racist ravings. More conflicted is sister Asia, who shares Johns charm as well as his prickly disposition; after the assassination, she finds herself briefly under suspicion. As the Booths story unfolds, Fowler inserts major national events into the narrative, like the Dred Scott case and John Browns uprising, along with key moments in Lincolns life showing his humanity as well as his public nobility. The historical context she offers is of a preCivil 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. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal
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Author of the Man Booker short-listed, Pen/Faulkner Award-winning We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Fowler here reimagines the life and times of one of U.S. history's most wrenchingly awful figures: John Wilkes Booth. She starts in 1822 with a remote cabin 30 miles northeast of Baltimore, where gifted but emotionally unbalanced Shakespearean actor Junius Booth presides over a family that finally amounts to ten children, including John. The Booths take center stage as the country's top theatrical family, but their secrets and scandals mount as the country burns its way toward the Civil War.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

John Wilkes Booth needs no introduction, but this isn’t really his story. Instead, it is his family, most especially his siblings, who takes center stage. There is “poor” Rosalie, steady and ignored; Junius, a lesser talent than the father for whom he was named; Edwin, introspective and damaged yet brilliant when performing; Asia, beautiful and self-absorbed. All are shaped by the downstream effect of an alcoholic, mercurial, often-absent father and a mother overburdened to the point of collapse. Scandal, loss, and straightened finances plague the family, but worse is yet to come. Interspersed with the lives of the Booths are cherry-picked Lincoln quotations along with a didactic political history meant to relate events to current politics. All builds towards “Johnny’s” terrible act and its consequences for his siblings, the unjust suffering of guilt by association. In her first historical novel in a decade, the best-selling Fowler (Black Glass, 2015) 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.


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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. Given his upbringing in a vegetarian, strongly anti-slavery, highly literate, freethinking household that even today would be labeled bohemian, how did John became a pro-slavery, pro-secessionist fanatic capable of terrorist murder? And how did his actions affect his surviving family? Alcoholic, eccentrically idealistic Junius Booth is a major star on the British stage when he and his “wife,” Mary, run away to rural Maryland while he is still married to another woman. Of their 10 offspring, six survive past early childhood. Bright oldest daughter Rosalie dotes on charming Johnny but is keenly perceptive about his weaknesses. (In a heartbreaking depiction of Victorian women’s limited options, Rosalie’s own sparkle fades into genteel alcoholism after she's forced to forego education and marriage and become the family caregiver.) Brother Edwin is quiet, responsible, maybe even dull compared to charismatic John, but despite sharing the family addiction to alcohol, Edwin has the discipline, intelligence, and talent that John lacks to succeed as an actor. To his own—and John’s resentful—surprise, Edwin becomes America’s foremost actor, maintaining his prestige despite his brother’s infamy. Staunchly abolitionist and pro-union, Edwin, who once saved Robert Lincoln’s life, and Rosalie are increasingly aghast at John’s increasingly crazed behavior and racist ravings. More conflicted is sister Asia, who shares John’s charm as well as his prickly disposition; after the assassination, she finds herself briefly under suspicion. As the Booths’ story unfolds, Fowler inserts major national events into the narrative, like the Dred Scott case and John Brown’s uprising, along with key moments in Lincoln’s life showing his humanity as well as his public nobility. 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. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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