See What I Have Done | Sarah Schmidt

Publication Date: August 1st, 2017

Page Count: 324

Why I read it: I received See What I Have Done as an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. (But it's been high on my TBR list for awhile!)

First Sentence: "He was still bleeding."

Book Description: (From Amazon) Lizzie Borden took an ax
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 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.

My Thoughts: Well hello there, Sarah Schmidt. I love it when a debut novel really nails it. See What I Have Done is one of my most highly anticipated reads for the year. I've always been absolutely fascinated with Lizzie Borden and couldn't wait to read a fictionalized account of her story. I didn't know if it was going to deal with the events leading up to the murders, the murder itself, or the trial that took place thereafter, but I didn't mind going in relatively blind. I was pleased that it really covered a little of everything, but focused mainly on the events that happened in the days leading up to and after the murder. The story is told from 4 different perspectives: Emma, the older sister, Bridget, the Irish Maid, Benjamin, a stranger with nefarious intentions, and Lizzie herself.

The writing was so evocative! There's a lot of imagery (specifically, food and smell imagery. That damn mutton soup!)  It was a slow burn and the story took me a bit to get into, but Schmidt had my full attention when she began to describe the state of the bodies. This book is not for the faint of heart. When I'm faced with gruesome imagery, it surprises me and makes me laugh. (Like, ahh very good author- you got me!) I had that feeling several times throughout this book. That said, if you are not into gore, you should probably skip this one. It was a very atmospheric story, and I am typically not one for "flowery" writing. I like character development and solid plot, and I want you to describe what's going on to me clearly, thank you. However, because of the 4 differing viewpoints, the author got a chance to really play with style without sacrificing the story. Emma was the most straightforward character; she is an older sister who is beholden  to her needy younger sister, Lizzie. Lizzie wants nothing more than the entirety of Emma's love: "I thought about..stalking into Emma's bed like the moon and lying by her side, growing tentacles and wrapping them around her until our breathing matched." Yeah. Lizzie is definitely creepy. 

Emma's chapters are often really sad, both because her parents have been murdered and because she knows this now means she'll never get away from her burdensome sister.  Lizzie's chapters creeped me out the most. Her narrative feels cloudy and anxious. I thought it was genius how the author played with words to get Lizzie's madness across. "I wanted to feel better. I forced my fingers onto my arms and forced them to march like ants". There was definitely something off with her and I have no trouble believing this character could have murdered her parents. 

The maid, Bridget, who "did things and did things", is the voice of reason. She sees the family members for who they really are... and she wants out. She's been saving up her earnings for a trip back home, but when Mrs. Borden finds out, she steals her money. She's at least 10 years younger than Lizzie, the youngest Borden, but she often seems like the only adult in the room. She is a maid who emigrated to America from Ireland with the hopes of earning her own way and chasing the American Dream, and I really enjoyed reading about the pains she went through and the sacrifices she made to get to the U.S. 

Benjamin is a man that's hired by the girls' uncle to teach their father a lesson. He ends up getting inside the home and ends up having a very interesting perspective on the murders. He gives me a real droog from Clockwork Orange vibe. I really enjoyed his addition to the story, as it gave us another angle to consider. 

Overall, I found this to be a quite enjoyable read. We are given a real timeline of events at the end, and it seems like the author followed the actual events very closely. It's fiction but it sounded like a reasonable explanation for the unsolved case to me. I do wish we could have gotten more information about what happened during the trial, but I still feel like we were given a resolution to the story. The characters were well fleshed out and complex and I walked away feeling like I had a good sense as to the type of people the Bordens were.  I think this could make a very disturbing HBO adaptation, a la Big Little Lies. Read her dedications, seriously. Especially the part dedicated to Lizzie... 

Favorite Quote: "The jurors would poke their old fingers in everything, pretend they were investigating the facts when really they wanted to touch the spaces dead people had been."

Rating: 4.5/5. (Extra half star for the writing!)

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