Book excerpt: “Booth” by Karen Joy Fowler

In “booth,” Karen Joy Fowler, the bestselling author of “The Jane Austen Book Club” and “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,” returns with a historical novel about a famed family of actors, one of whom would grow up to become a presidential assassin.

Read an exception below.


G. P. Putnam’s Sons


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 de ella, but in miniature, and with little feminizing of their features de ella. 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 family.

The long winter is just coming to its end. The blackbirds have arrived, the robins are expected, and Rosalie feels the turn in her breath, in her bones. She is not quite happy, but surprisingly close to it. She feels light. Perhaps the bad times are over.

The moment she registers the feeling, it slips away. There is a palpable relief whenever Father leaves on tour. Mail day is the exception. By noon, Mother will be reading a letter from Father. The letter will be good or it will be bad. Mother will need her desperately or she won’t need her at all.

The sky above the trees is pale and bare and skims in reflection on the flat surface of the water. It’s not a warm day, but it’s a dry one. Rosalie is wearing her shawl, her bonnet, and a pair of sturdy boots that were bought some years ago for her brother Ella June.

June is the oldest child, recently turned seventeen. He’s off in the barley fields this morning, because Father has read an article on some new fertilizing technique and so it must be tried at once. Father is always impatient for the completion of projects in which he has no part. He often berates his own father for lack of industry. Father thinks Grandfather drinks too much.

Grandfather thinks the same of Father. They quarrel about this endlessly whenever Father is home, often from their customary chairs at the Churchville Tavern, where all such arguments can be fueled by the jolly god.

Rosalie doesn’t know where her grandfather is just now. Since her little brother Henry Byron died, Grandfather is often hard to find, and mostly they don’t look. I have eaten. He goes. Sometimes he misses a meal, but not often. He used to give the children lessons, but really this was just for Henry; none of the other children are promising enough to interest him. Not June, who is more brawn than brains, a handsome, genial disappointment they once hoped would be a doctor or lawyer. Certainly not Rosalie.


From the book “Booth” by Karen Joy Fowler. Copyright © 2022 by Karen Joy Fowler. Published by permission of GP Putnam’s Sons, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. All Rights Reserved.


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