Title: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Length: 324 pages
Book Rating: C
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
Or did she?
In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most spellbinding murder cases of all time into a sensitive and humane portrait of two sisters caught inside a volatile household—and what it means to be free and truly loved.
On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid Bridget: Someone’s killed father. The discovery of the brutal axe-murders of Andrew and Abby Borden under their own roof in Fall River, Massachusetts paralyzes the small community. No one can understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens. But secret witnesses to the crime have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful step-mother; 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 flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? Before or after she last spoke to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Through the overlapping perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, we return to what happened on that fateful day.
See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is a fictionalized novel about the infamous Lizzie Border and the still unsolved murders of her father and stepmother.
On August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden made a gruesome discovery when she found her father Andrew’s lifeless body in the parlor. Not too long after the family doctor and local police arrive at the Borden home, her stepmother Abby’s remains are found in the upstairs guestroom. The only other person in the house at the time of the murders is the Borden maid, Bridget. Also visiting at time of the deaths is the Borden sisters’ maternal uncle, John Morse, but he is out of the house at the time of deaths. Lizzie’s older sister Emma also still lives at home but she is currently staying with a friend out of town so she is not considered a suspect. Although Lizzie is eventually arrested and tried for the double homicide, she is ultimately acquitted and the world has remained fascinated with the Borden family and the deaths ever since.
In See What I Have Done, the narration rotates between Lizzie, Bridget, Emma and a completely fictional character, Benjamin, a thug hired by Uncle John for a somewhat mysterious purpose. The four voices are distinct and each brings a unique perspective to the Borden household. Lizzie is portrayed as quite manipulative and she comes across as somewhat childlike despite the fact she 32 years old at the time of the murders. She is definitely the least sympathetic or likable person in the novel and she certainly has the motive, means and opportunity to commit to commit the murders. Bridget is an Irish immigrant who wants nothing more than leave her position with the Bordens and return to Ireland but Abby Borden convinced her to remain with the family. However, Bridget has managed to save enough money to put her plan in motion, but will Abby allow her to leave? John’s relationship with his nieces is portrayed as somewhat troubled with a kind of an icky factor that comes across as somewhat incestuous (shudder). The inclusion of Benjamin in the novel is rather odd and further muddies an already muddled narrative. Emma is incredibly loyal to Lizzie and she easily capitulates to her sister’s selfish demands.
For the most part, the storyline focuses mainly on the day before and the day of the murders with a few other dates thrown in near the end of the novel. The chapters from Lizzie’s perspective support the widely held theory she is a murderess and that she made more than one attempt to commit murder before finally succeeding. The writing style for Lizzie’s chapters is off-putting which makes it difficult to maintain readers’ attention. There is also a great deal of repetition that contributes to the slow pacing of the story.
If you are new to Lizzie Borden and the still unsolved murders of her father and stepmother, then See What I Have Done is the book for you. However, if you are looking for new information about the case, you might not enjoy the novel because, outside of the addition of the fictional character Benjamin, Sarah Schmidt remains true to the known facts of the case and offers very little new insight into the murders.