ARC Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

SeeWhatIHaveDoneCoverOfficial 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.

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***

**This post contains affiliate links**


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:

“The clock on the mantel ticked ticked.” (This sentence is sprinkled throughout the entire book, and I counted it being used 22 times.)

“My heart beat nightmares, gallop, gallop,”

“Bridget came down, brought with her the smell of decayed meaty-meat.”

“I thought of Father, my stomach growled hunger and I went to the pail of water by the well, let my hands sink into the cool sip sip.”

“The sounds of pigeon feet tacky-tacked across the roof and I thought of Father.”

“Over there, men wearing rabbit-felt fedoras sat in circles drinking mud-heavy coffee. Over there, girls dressed in Virginlaced communion. Over there, three people reading. Over there, pigeons shaking out wings, pecking seed. How I wanted one to take home. Over there, over there, over there.”

“There were voices in the sitting room, voices in the kitchen, voices above me a muffle-muffle and dragging feet.”

‘It’s best you stay downstairs with us, miss,’ the officer said, gobble, gobble, gobble.”

“I lay on my bed, rolled over and looked at my family, heard their voices in my ear, the sweet singing of ‘Noreen Bawn’, their sweet goodbyes before I took to the ship. I hummed along. I hummed along, my throat tight and homesick, my cheeks wet. I hummed along, kept my family close.”

“She sniffed the air, said, ‘What on God’s earth is that smell?’ She went back to the kitchen. Sniff, sniff. She went into the sitting room. Sniff, sniff.”

 

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.


Links to See What I Have Done on   Amazon    (this is an affiliate link – if you click this, I get a small commission if you purchase anything)  &  Goodreads

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?


19 thoughts on “ARC Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

  1. I just saw this book as one recommended by Entertainment Weekly and really found the cover compelling. Now after reading your review I know it won’t be the right book for me even though I love murder mysteries especially if they are based on real events. If you haven’t read The Monsters of Florence yet I can highly recommend it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The cover is gorgeous and really captures the book well, I think. Lizzie is a bit obsessed with pigeons, and there is bird imagery throughout the novel. It’s really a very fitting cover!
      Ooh – The Monsters of Florence sounds really interesting, thanks for the recommendation!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I made it to 2% and abandoned it just after the “sip sip” sentence. So glad I did – she’d repeated “the clock ticked, ticked” only three times by that stage – another 19 times would have made me want to get out an axe myself… 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah… it was a bit much! There was a point in the book, towards the end, where instead of the clock ticking, it whirled, or did some other noise, and the effect of the change in phrase helped charge the atmosphere of that particular scene, but I’m not sold on this repetitive phrasing business. It ended up not bothering me as much as I was guessing it would, but some of the stylistic choices didn’t make a lot of sense to me. When I first finished the book, I was thinking that the repetition was only in Lizzie’s narration, but when I went back and re-read the quotes I highlighted, I realized that it was present in all 4 of the different narrators.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Every once in awhile there was one that really worked, but many times it was just odd. There were even some that I thought, “oh that surely is a typo” because it was just not good.

        Like

    1. It surely was an interesting read, and it certainly held my interest!
      For the affiliate links I think you are supposed to disclose that on every post and by the links. I’ve seen people do what I’m doing, and having the alert on the post and also a mention of it by the link, but I’ve also seen other people just do a basic “this post contains affiliate links” and leave it at that, or even just have the disclosure on their about page. I’m trying to be extra cautious since I just started up with it – I’ve only got the links on a few of my posts right now. I’m now debating if I want to re-do alllll of my links in all my posts, or just go forward with new posts having affiliate links.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I’ve just been one for a little over a week. So totally brand new! I kept looking at the fine print for a long time before joining up, too. And then one night I finally just decided to join! So we’ll see how it goes. The links are super easy to do.

          Liked by 1 person

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