Book Review: Chorus by Rebecca Kauffman

Chorus – Rebecca Kauffman (Counterpoint, 2022)

I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book. All opinions are my own. On sale March 1, 2022

Chorus earns its title from the chorus of voices portrayed throughout this book. There are seven Shaw siblings, as well as their parents, and we follow them through their childhood and into adulthood. The central event of their childhood is the death of their mother. A woman who was always physically present but largely absent from their lives, a shadowy and unpredictable woman who suffers from some unnamed illness. Readers will recognize that their mother is suffering from a severe depression, perhaps another form of mental illness, but this is a childhood taking place in rural America in the late 1920 and the 1930s and there is no language available around mental illness. Even as adults, the seven siblings have wildly differing understandings of who their mother was. When she dies, some of them choose to accept the story that her death was accidental, a mistake of taking too much medication at the wrong time. Others believe it to have been a purposeful act. Their opinions on their mother shape them into adulthood and we follow their various paths in life, the choices that split them apart and the ones that bring them back together.

Each section takes place at a different time and follows a different character. We even get sections that delve into who their mother and father are and this is also illuminating. The sections are, however, not in chronological order and because there are so many siblings it took me much of the book (it’s just over 200 pages) to figure out what was going on. The siblings and their stories are each unique enough that I didn’t struggle to tell them apart once they were set in my mind. It was more that I felt like I wanted to be well into their story but characters were still being introduced. I wouldn’t say this is a book that needs to be longer but it did perhaps need a stronger introductory chapter or to have the sections written in a straightforward timeline. As it was, I found that I had to flip back several times to remind myself if certain events I’d already read about had occurred for the characters themselves.

While that isn’t a small flaw, I did find that the seven siblings and their parents were interesting enough that I was willing to put in the work and follow them through. Their story felt honest and truthful. Kauffman did well at portraying a variety of sibling relationships in all their ups and downs.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Chorus by Rebecca Kauffman”

  1. Not long ago I read a book called The Turner House by Angela Flournoy that had fourteen siblings plus their parents, and I could not tell one person from the next. The author said the family was similar to her own, but I am a firm believer that fact doesn’t not always create convincing fiction.

    1. This is a story that probably could have been told with 5 siblings. I was able to figure them out by the end but it took me longer than it should have. I agree – just because something is true doesn’t mean it works well for a fictional story!

  2. Hoo boy that’s a lot of characters. I do like a good family drama though – and that cover is beautiful, but it doesn’t seem to really fit what the book is about, do you know what I mean?

    1. The cover is beautiful but you’re right, it doesn’t have anything to do with the story! It feels like they just chose it because flowery book covers are trendy!

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