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.
See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
Publication Date: August 1, 2017 by Atlantic Monthly Press
Lizzie Borden took an axe
and gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.
I recently finished watching The Lizzie Borden Chronicles on Netflix and couldn’t believe my luck when I was approved on Netgalley for See What I Have Done.
Having watched the mini series with Christina Ricci (Lizzie Borden) and Clea DuVall (Emma Borden), I found this book to be an accurate depiction of the dysfunction in their relationship with each other and their parents as well. For those who need something to fill the void until this book is released in August, I’d highly recommend watching this show!
See What I Have Done brings us a little closer into the Borden household by alternating chapters narrated by several different characters: Lizzie, her sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and a man named Benjamin. I’m particularly drawn to character studies and this is a novel that doesn’t disappoint in that area. As the reader gets an intimate look into the thoughts and daily lives of all these people, it’s easier to see why things ended in the murder of Andrew Borden and his wife, Abby Borden.
While Lizzie ceases to terrify me, I particularly appreciated the opportunity to hear from her older sister, Emma. There was something heartbreaking about Emma’s wish to escape, but her unwillingness to leave for fear of abandoning her sister. The dysfunctional relationship between the two sisters is clear from the very start and there were several times where I just wished I could reach out and shake Emma and tell her to run as far as she could.
Lizzie tucked her chin, couldn’t quite look me in the eye. ‘Do you still love me?’ I hardened: ribs ached, fingers tired, shriveled. It always came down to love. I wanted to say, ‘No.’ Then, ‘Not always,’ then, ‘Sometimes I wish you were dead.’ ‘Yes,’ I told her. ‘I do.’
Schmidt does an amazing job of highlighting the unhealthy relationship between not only Lizzie and Emma, but between both girls and their father as well. Despite being grown women, Lizzie and Emma are ruled by Mr. Borden and at times, it seems more a sense of ingrained responsibility towards him than anything he dictates aloud. Regardless, the feelings of discomfort and unhappiness in the household are palpable and Schmidt’s prose makes those uncomfortable feelings even more visceral.
Spikes grew along the back of my ribcage, made me cough, and I took her hand. It was soft like mine. There we were, me and my sister, our bodies inseparable. There is nothing that escapes blood.
For those who like suspenseful, somewhat gruesome plots with a cast of both likable and despicable characters, be prepared to get a copy of this book as soon as it is released in August! Even those who don’t know the historical background of the Borden family would easily become absorbed in the novel since it does not require a prior knowledge of the murders. Either way, this is definitely a book I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys an unsettling, psychological thriller regardless of their interest in history.
Thank you, Netgalley and Atlantic Monthly Press for allowing me to read this book prior to its publication in exchange for an honest review!