Review: Booth

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Choosing Booth as my March Book of the Month Club add-on was a no-brainer. I’ve long been fascinated by American history, particularly the Early American era. While Booth sits just outside of that parameter, I’m familiar enough with the context of the period to understand and appreciate just how much meticulous research went into this story.

We all know the name John Wilkes Booth. But, before he received his infamy for assassinating President Abraham Lincoln, he was a Shakespearean actor, like his father Junius Brutus Booth and his brothers Junius Booth Jr. (June) and Edwin. This book tells the story of the notorious Booth family before John’s fateful approach to the presidential box at Ford’s Theater. Through Booth, we learn more about Junius, June, Edwin, and John and their sisters Asia and Rosalie, all who have rich and storied lives separate from that of their now-infamous brother.

Like most families in the period, the Booths suffered from miscarried pregnancies, infant and child deaths, and the other trials and tribulations of the 19th century. The Booths were also prone to alcoholism, making their frequent dances with drink something dangerous. As the story progresses, Junius Booth becomes more and more unruly, John becomes deranged and obsessed with the Confederacy and ending “King Lincoln’s reign,” Rosalie becomes more invalid and withdrawn, and Asia becomes more wild. Every character experiences growth and shifts, and it’s all the more fascinating because it’s a novelized version of actual events. Junius Booth really did perform rip-roaring drunk. He really did abandon his wife and child in England and absconded to America with his new “wife,” all unbeknownst to his children, who thought they were born within the safe confines of wedlock. It’s a captivating story and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in American history or historical fiction.

Dates read: March 9 through 12, 2022

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