Historical Fiction: Booth’s Sister, by Jane Singer

Booth's Sister

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Decades ago, “stream of consciousness” was a popular writing technique in which less attention was paid to narrative and more to the character’s thoughts as they occurred. Booth’s Sister, a semi-biographical novel about Asia Booth’s experiences as part of the family of John Wilkes Booth, does this to some extent, particularly in the first half. John and Asia had an unconventional, unstructured upbringing, not surprising since their father and older brother were among America’s earliest idols. Since the author based her story upon Asia’s own memoirs, it seems likely that the childhood memories recounted here are reasonable accurate, at least with respect to how Asia perceived the things that happened. If so, questions arise as to the nature of her and John’s relationship, which appears to have lacked normal boundaries, to say the least.

The second half of the novel is somewhat more straightforward, recounting Asia’s life after her marriage to John Clarke, whom she apparently did not love because he was not John Wilkes. While she was aware that her brother was plotting against President Lincoln, she did not seem to believe he would resort to murder, and she did not share his confederate sympathies. When the war ended, she expected his machinations to end along with it, so she was as shocked as anyone to learn what he had done.  The focus in this section lies mainly on the days during which Asia was kept under house arrest, while the manhunt for her brother was underway.

There are quotations from Shakespeare (the Booths were Shakespearian thespians who were always spouting lines from one or another of the plays) at the end of every chapter, and they were chosen with care to reflect what was happening to and around Asia herself. Booth’s Sister is not your typical historical novel, but its idiosyncrasies add to the interest.

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