CBR14 BINGO: Gaslight Square (BINGO! Bodies to Gaslight BINGO! Snake to Gaslight)
(For the literal: Takes place in the mid-19th century when gaslight was used. Figuratively: everyone gaslights each other in this one. Full of manipulative spouses, parents, siblings, neighbors, friends, and politicians.)
Decades ago I was well into an American Civil War historical fiction rabbit hole. I read a lot of it. In that pile of reading, there was quite a bit about John Wilkes Booth whether he was the main character or part of a subplot. All were concentrated on his radicalization and the time just leading up to his assassination of Abraham Lincoln. This is the first time I have read a book about the Booth family. It was fabulous and terrifying.
The book begins with the Booths moving to a farm outside of Baltimore. Here patriarch, Junius Booth, deposits his young family while he travels the country performing in plays. Renowned for his talent as well as his temperament and alcohol abuse, his homecomings are always a bit fraught. His wife and children alternately bask in his glow or walk on eggshells. The story is told mostly through the lens of the children, primarily the eldest daughter (Rosalie), youngest daughter (Asia), and middle son (Edwin). Breaking up their stories, are Lincoln quotes and historical snippets that give context to both the political climate in the United States and the private goings-on in Lincoln’s life.
The depth of character and the very honest way that Fowler writes about them is tremendous. A grieving mother who buries nearly half of her children. A daughter whose life is spent taking care of everyone but herself. A set of siblings split by the dead children that rest between them. An angry young man trying to define himself over the roar of a crowd that cheers only his father and brother.
This is all about a family and a country that is divided. I couldn’t shake the horror of reading quote after quote and passage after passage that could so easily be applied to what the United States is going through today. Chilling. Truly. I will say that I have probably read a little too much that puts Lincoln on a pedestal. Here, Fowler presents him in all of his complexity. The man who would free the slaves but also very much a white man of his time. It’s like a peek behind the supremacy curtain in all of its permutations.