My Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
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.
I was only barely aware of the infamous Lizzie Borden and the unsolved murders of her father and step-mother. And when I say barely aware, that last sentence was pretty much all I knew. See What I Have Done does a great job of providing information about this case and the details of the Borden family’s life. Sarah Schmidt is not offering brand new facts or hypotheses about the investigation, but is instead how things might have transpired on that fateful day. Schmidt does an excellent job of keeping the reader on edge throughout and always unsure of whom to trust. I love that this book alternates perspectives of some of the key players, and with an additional invented character. This choice offers lots of insight between the characters and we learn so much more about everyone’s past. Despite the ambiguity of this case, you’ll finish this book with your own opinion of whether or not Lizzie Borden murdered her parents.
I would just like to start by saying that Lizzie Borden was a horrible person. Regardless of her potential involvement with the murders, she was mean, vindictive, and greedy with everyone else she met. I do enjoy reading stories featuring unlikeable women characters, but Lizzie Borden certainly takes the cake. I really loved reading about her sister, Emma, and the family maid/servant, Bridget. Their perspectives shed considerable light on Lizzie’s nature and context for her emotional responses after the murders. I was especially struck by Emma’s waffling between her need to flee her stifling family and her long ago promise to take care of Lizzie. This struggle felt extremely real to me and I thought Emma and Lizzie’s dynamic was very sisterly.
I also think it’s worth noting here that this book is creepy. It’s certainly not horror, but Schmidt does not shy away from depicting gruesome and bodily scenes with intense detail. She describes smells, tastes, and feelings with eerie precision, and I could see this book being too much to handle for some. Personally, I thought these writing choices added atmosphere to this story and really set the tone for the disturbing nature of these murders.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I discovered it because it was nominated for the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, which is a UK prize. You can read the rest of the longlist here. Despite being over 300 pages, this book is incredibly readable and impossible to put down. This is definitely a one or two sitting read! I highly recommend this book, especially if you enjoy true crime and more gruesome murders.
This book is…
full of twists and turns
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Page Count: 328
Available here from IndieBound.
Have you read See What I Have Done? What do you think about the infamous Lizzie Borden case?