Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Setting: August 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts
**I received an eARC copy of See What I Have Done from the publisher, Atlantic Monthly Press, via NetGalley***
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Review: Interesting and disturbing, with a different writing style. Some people will love this book, and some will really dislike it. I’m somewhat in the middle.
See What I Have Done tells the story of Lizzie Borden and the murders of her father and stepmother in August 1892. August 4, 1892 to be exact! Before reading See What I Have Done, I just had a vague recollection of the story, pretty much just because of the rhyme that starts out with “Lizzie Borden took an axe”, so much of this story was new information for me. I stayed away from the Internet and didn’t look anything up about the facts of the murders until after I finished the book, and now I can say that Sarah Schmidt did a lot of research about the murders and the family, and her version of events is entirely plausible. I liked reading about the murders online and seeing how Schmidt wove certain details into her story.
Told from multiple POVs, we hear from Lizzie, Lizzie’s sister Emma, their maid Bridget, and a man named Benjamin, who is hired by the girl’s uncle “to take care of a problem”. The voices are all distinct, with Lizzie being the most compelling for me. Lizzie is an unreliable narrator, which is something I love, so I was drawn to Lizzie’s sections, as bizarre as they were. Lizzie’s sister, Emma, and also their maid, Bridget, are told in a more straight-forward way, although there is an element of back-and-forth in time (from the day of the murders to events that happen days and years before) that make it confusing sometimes. We also get to see into the mind of Benjamin, a drifter, and his sections were the worst for me. Benjamin is, uh, oddly fascinated with blood and bodies (so is Lizzie to an extent), and some of his sections were definitely gross and downright creepy. Whenever I read his sections, I was just cringing at all of the different images.
Repetitive phrasing is used throughout the book, and this type of writing is not for everyone. Sometimes this style really irritated me and I couldn’t tell if it was a typo or intentional, sometimes I could ignore it, and other times I really enjoyed it and felt it brought almost a musicality to the text.
Here are some examples, and keep in mind these quotes are from an ARC, so might be different in the published version:
So, if this type of writing style doesn’t bother you, then you might really love this book, as it does have a more literary feel than most historical fiction does. I went back and forth with this technique, and am still not entirely sure how I feel about it. Sometimes it was a bit much, other times I felt it really worked.
There is a feeling of uneasiness and suspicion that permeates this book. The Bordens are an odd family, and there is a definite cloud of darkness that hangs over their house. Some abuses are obvious, others I can only infer, and this really contributed to the sense I had while reading that something is very, very wrong in the Borden house.
I can’t really recommend this book to everyone as there were scenes that were incredibly disturbing and downright gross, but I was never bored while reading this. The characters are fascinating, Lizzie especially, but they are all so unlikeable that I didn’t care about any of them.
Bottom Line: Fascinating and disturbing. The literary style is not for everyone.
Note: The Lizzie Borden House is now a bed and breakfast, so you can stay in the house, even in the very room where Mrs. Borden was murdered. The house offers tours and has an official psychic on staff, and they also conduct ghost hunts as well. I don’t know that I’d want to stay in the house, seems a bit macabre to do so, but the tour sounds interesting! The day tour – not the ghost tour – I’m a scaredy-cat!
Does this sound like a good read? Are you interested in the writing style or do you want to run run away from it? Would you stay in the Lizzie Borden house or take a tour? And if you are familiar with the Lizzie Borden story, who do you think killed the Bordens?