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Booth
Cover of Booth
Booth
Best Book of the Year
Real Simple • AARP • USA Today
Longlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize
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.
Best Book of the Year
Real Simple • AARP • USA Today
Longlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize
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.
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Excerpts-
  • From the cover 1822

    The people who live there call it the farm, though it's half trees, woodland merging into dense forest. A two-story, two-room log cabin has been brought from a nearby acreage on rollers greased with pig lard. The walls are whitewashed, the shutters painted red. A kitchen is added on one side, a bedroom and loft on the other. The additions stand off the main room like wings. There is nothing special about this cabin with its low ceilings, meager windows, and canted staircase, and moving it was a costly business, every local ox and man hired for the job. This all left the neighbors with the impression that the new owner was a bit crazy, a thought they never had cause to revise.

    The relocation puts the cabin beside Beech Spring, where the water is so clean and clear as to be invisible. But, and the neighbors suspect that this is the real purpose, it's also a secret cabin now, screened from the wind and the road by a dense stand of walnut, oak, tulip, and beech. Still, since everyone in the neighborhood helped move it, everyone in the neighborhood knows it's there.

    The nearest neighbors are the Woolseys on one side and the Rogerses on the other. Bel Air, the county seat, is three miles away; the big city of Baltimore some thirty miles of rough coach road to the south and west.

    Improvements are made. Orchards of peach, apple, and pear are planted; fields of corn, cane sorghum, barley, and oats; a kitchen garden of radishes, beets, and onions. A cherry tree sprig is set near the front door and carefully tended. A granary, stables, barn, and milking shed are built. Three large, black Newfoundland dogs arrive to patrol the grounds. They are chained during the day and loosed at night. The neighbors describe these dogs as savage.

    Zigzag fences are erected or repaired. The mail is delivered on horseback once a week, thrown over the gate by a postboy, who whistles through two fingers as he passes, driving the dogs to a frenzy of howling and rattling chains.

    A secret family moves into the secret cabin.

    ***

    Sixteen years pass. The family grows, shrinks, grows. By 1838, the children number at nine, counting the one about to arrive and the four who are dead. Eventually there will be ten.

    These children have:

    A famous father, a Shakespearean actor, on tour more often than at home.

    A paternal grandfather, skinny as a stork, with white hair worn in a single braid, his clothing also fifty years out of fashion, breech trousers and buckle shoes. He's come from London to help out during their father's long absences. He was once a lawyer, treasonably sympathetic to the American revolutionaries, enthusiastic for all things American. Visitors to his London house were made to bow before a portrait of George Washington. Now that he lives here, he hates it. He likens the farm to Robinson Crusoe's island, himself a marooned castaway on its desolate shore. He's rarely sober, which makes him less helpful than might have been hoped.

    An indulgent mother. A dark-haired beauty with retiring manners, she'd once sold flowers from her family nursery on Drury Lane. She'd first seen their father onstage as King Lear and was astonished, when meeting him, to find that he was young and handsome. He'd had to perform the Howl, howl, howl speech right there in the London street before she'd believe he was the same man. "When will you spend a day with me?" he'd asked within minutes of learning her name. "Tomorrow?" and she'd surprised herself by saying yes.

    During their brief courtship, he'd sent her ninety-three love letters, pressing his suit with his ambition, his ardor, the poems of Lord Byron, and the promise...
About the Author-
  • Karen Joy Fowler is the New York Times bestselling author of six novels, including The Jane Austen Book Club and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which was the winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She lives in Santa Cruz, California.
     
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from January 24, 2022
    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.

  • AudioFile Magazine January LaVoy narrates this well-researched saga about the theatrical Booth family, made infamous by the actions of assassin John Wilkes Booth. Her tone captures tumultuous key moments in history--from events in Lincoln's life to John Brown's rebellion to the eventual passing of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery. LaVoy shows eldest sister Rosalie to be "Johnny's" staunch supporter, and as vivacious sister Asia, LaVoy imparts the charm and feisty nature that mirrors John's. She captures John's jealousy of brother Edwin's acclaim while fame eludes him. Despite growing up in a family of intelligent freethinkers, John becomes a slavery advocate fanatic enough to commit murder. LaVoy's performance makes each surprising revelation sound fresh and original. This is fascinating listening. S.J.H. � AudioFile 2022, Portland, Maine
  • Library Journal

    Starred review from June 1, 2022

    Fowler (We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves) makes a triumphant return to historical fiction with this stunning portrayal of a family whose name is infamous thanks to the actions of its favored son, John Wilkes Booth. Fowler crafts a narrative that reaches all the way back before John's birth to follow the Booth family as they establish themselves in rural Maryland amid the growing rumbles of a nation deeply divided over slavery. Narrator January LaVoy skillfully creates a distinct voice for each of the extended Booth clan as they experience triumph and heartache, from stolid Junius Jr. to dependable Rosalie to ambitious Edwin and headstrong Asia--and of course, John. LaVoy's subtle narration follows John's evolution from a sweet boy to an angry, entitled man who cannot consider that he might be wrong about his fundamental beliefs, even when they are at odds with his upbringing. VERDICT LaVoy's interpretation of Fowler's fascinating family novel will thrill lovers of both history and suspense as it builds to its inevitable conclusion. Highly recommended for all audio collections.--Natalie Marshall

    Copyright 2022 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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