Putnam Novelist Karen Joy Fowler Uncovers the Family of John Wilkes Booth


Karen Joy Fowler, Photo © Nathan Quintanilla

Our new Igloo Book Buzz selection is Karen Joy Fowler’s BOOTH, published this week by Putnam. It’s a startling, engrossing, and intimate novel about the family behind one of the most infamous figures in American history: John Wilkes Booth.

“I began thinking about this book during one of our horrific spates of mass shootings,” Fowler shares. “Among other things, like other writers before me, I wondered about the families of the shooters – how would such a family deal with their own culpability, all the if-onlys? Would it be possible to rejoin the devastated community? What happens to love when the person you love becomes a monster?”

This led Fowler to John Wilkes Booth, and a conundrum: “I did not want to write a book about John Wilkes. This is a man who craved attention and has gotten too much of it; I didn’t think he deserved mine. And yet there is no way around the fact that I wouldn’t be writing about his family, if he weren’t who he was, if he hadn’t done what he did. The tension over this issue – how to write the book without centering John Wilkes – is something I grappled with on nearly every page.”

Fowler’s editor, Sally Kim, SVP & Publisher, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, says, ““Instead of underlining the modern-day implications of this story—and there are many!—she lets readers make the connections themselves. In any other writer’s hands this would be a near-impossible enterprise, crafting a story so epic in scope, but so intimate in its telling you feel you’re reading a family diary.”

Kim adds, “To say this new novel by Karen Joy Fowler is highly anticipated is an understatement. Not only because it’s been some years since her beloved, acclaimed, and very decorated We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was published—and before that, the equally adored and admired The Jane Austen Book Club—but because Karen has earned that coveted position of being a writer’s writer, in addition to a reader’s favorite.

“I’ve honestly lost track of all the authors who have told me they count Karen as one of their favorite literary influences. A big part of her appeal is how she’s able to write a completely different book every time. Every Karen Joy Fowler novel is an event and a reason to celebrate, and BOOTH is no exception.”

Many book reviewers across the country agree with Sally Kim. Here is a selection of praise:

  • “Fowler’s riveting saga explores these strains of familial devotion and sorrow connecting the colorful Booth brothers and sisters.” –Washington Post
  • “Fate, history, and chance collide in Karen Joy Fowler’s riveting historical novel. . . . What elevates BOOTH is the granular texture of what’s beneath the bald facts: the how and the myriad whats and whys, the truths. And there is also Fowler’s trademark dark humor. . . . A massive achievement. In it, Fowler weaves history, family culture, and human cruelties into an insightful reckoning of a past that seems too much a prologue to our American present.” —Boston Globe
  • “This snapshot of a troubled family in a country in its own throes of change promises difficult insights into our current moment.” —USA Today
  • “Masterful . . . A dazzling blend of fact and fiction with piercing echoes to today . . . Fowler’s excavation of this material is astonishing in its breadth and specificity, treating events of historical record with the same detail and care as secret bedtime talks and plays staged in treetops.” —San Francisco Chronicle

Posted: March 10, 2022