Best Book of the Year
Real Simple • AARP • USA Today • NPR • Virginia Living
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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
This gorgeously rendered, fascinating historical novel explores how infamous assassin John Wilkes Booth’s upbringing led to his infamy. The lives of Maryland’s Booth family, guided by the prodigiously talented but dangerously erratic father, Junius, are the stuff of Victorian melodrama—secret children, mental illness, and an unhealthy competitiveness between siblings. Author Karen Joy Fowler cleverly ties all of that drama into the tumult of the pre–Civil War era, as abolitionists and pro-slavery populists start to define the United States politically and geographically, while a young Illinois lawyer turned politician named Abraham Lincoln begins his rise. Veteran narrator January LaVoy handles the story’s multiple points of view and regional accents with remarkable grace and clarity, making this detailed historical novel fly past.