Published by Random House Publishing Group Genres: Crime, Dark Fiction, Fiction, Girls & Women, Historical Fiction, Horror
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In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.
On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.
As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.
This is a fictionalized retelling of the Lizzie Borden murders and though it gets many “meh”reviews, I surprisingly enjoyed it very much. These people are awful! They are selfish, resentful, devious and maddening in their “woe is me” entitled thoughts but I LOVED reading about their misery. And, boy, did they all live in a cesspool of misery, resentment and hate.
I do think you have to be in a certain grumpy headspace to appreciate this one and I was there. We’ve had a never-ending winter and I hurt my back so bad I had to quit a much loved workout routine probably forever. Reading this when I did was perfect timing. We were all miserable together for a short time. So moral of this sad story? Don’t read this if you’re happy or want to be happy.
The story is told from three different points of view. Lizzie, Bridget the maid and a shady male character whose name I can’t recall right now. I listened to the audio which is narrated by three different people. The women do a fine job as does the male narrator EXCEPT when he attempts to do a female voice in a painful fake falsetto. Fortunately he’s mostly narrating the man part so the cringe level is tolerable.
Many people have an issue with the grit and grue factor in this book and I can understand that. This book is an experience. You can feel the cloying sickness permeating these people and for me that’s the mark of good writing but it’s almost enough to make one queasy and I have a strong stomach. There is an exceptional amount of blood everywhere but almost worse is the vomit and rumbling stomachs. These gross people have been eating rotten mutton broth for what seems like weeks on end! The maid suspects it’s bad but keeps adding more salt to disguise the reek of rotten meat. I’m guessing this was because poppa Borden was too much of a cheapskate to let food go to waste. But I wasn’t there so who knows.
Many people also have issues with the way the story was told and I get that too. It jumps around in time and can be quite confusing and the people telling the story seem quite confused themselves at times. The end of the book leaves a lot of questions unanswered but still I love reading about these people. I cannot explain exactly why. Their relationships are poisonous and mean but if you’re up for that maybe you’ll love it too!
About Sarah Schmidt
Sarah Schmidt is a Melbourne based writer who happens to work at a public library.
See What I Have Done is her first novel.
Some people hug a teddy when the world gets to be too much. Me? I settle in with a scary book.