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‘Chorus’ explores the messy but powerful bonds that make a family


I’ve been reading widely lately, sailing across topics and genres like a ship unmoored. But Rebecca Kauffman’s newest novel drew me back into familiar — and for me, beloved — waters: the dysfunctional family drama.

“Chorus” is Kauffman’s fourth novel — a sprawling story about the Shaw family of rural Virginia that takes place over the first half of the 20th century. Jim Shaw, the patriarch, runs the family farm and is forced to sell off portions of land during the Great Depression. His wife, Marie, grapples with actual depression, which she calls “the darkness,” and she’s confined to her bed for much of her children’s lives. Narrating the tale are seven Shaw siblings, traveling back and forth through time in interconnected stories that illuminate the family’s overall experience.

Contrary to that description, “Chorus” does not read like a short-story collection. Rather, as the name implies, it’s like a song with multiple verses and one choral through-line: the bonds between siblings, in all their messy, often miscommunicated glory. The Shaw children form alliances of sorts — Wendy and Sam are the oldest, Maeve and Jack in the middle, Bette and Henry are the babies, and loner Lane somewhere among them. They deal differently with their mother’s mental illness and her untimely death, but their love for one another shines through.

With prosaic prose, Kauffman tells about the defining moments of the Shaw family and captures the complexities of families everywhere. I listened to this novel on Libro.fm and highly recommend the audio, in which Elisabeth Rodgers expertly narrates the cast of characters. There are scenes in this novel I will remember for a long time, and the overall story is rich and captivating. Highly recommended.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.