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 tellof 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.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Sarah Schmidt works as a reading and literacy coordinator at a regional public library. See What I Have Done is her first novel. She lives in Melbourne, Australia.
Read an Excerpt
August 4, 1892
He was still bleeding. I yelled, "Someone's killed Father." I breathed in kerosene air, licked the thickness from my teeth. The clock on the mantel ticked ticked. I looked at Father, the way hands clutched to thighs, the way the little gold ring on his pinkie finger sat like a sun. I gave him that ring for his birthday when I no longer wanted it. "Daddy," I had said, "I'm giving this to you because I love you." He had smiled and kissed my forehead.
A long time ago now.
I looked at Father. I touched his bleeding hand, how long does it take for a body to become cold? and leaned closer to his face, tried to make eye contact, waited to see if he might blink, might recognize me. I wiped my hand across my mouth, tasted blood. My heart beat nightmares, gallop, gallop, as I looked at Father again, watched blood river down his neck and disappear into suit cloth. The clock on the mantel ticked ticked. I walked out of the room, closed the door behind me and made my way to the back stairs, shouted once more to Bridget, "Quickly. Someone's killed Father." I wiped my hand across my mouth, licked my teeth.
Bridget came down, brought with her the smell of decayed meaty-meat. "Miss Lizzie, what ..."
"He's in the sitting room." I pointed through thick, wallpapered walls.
"Who is?" Bridget's face, prickly with confusion.
"I thought he looked hurt but I wasn't sure how badly until I got close," I said. Summer heat ran up my neck like a knife. My hands ached.
"Miss Lizzie, yer scarin' me."
"Father's in the sitting room." It was difficult to say anything else.
Bridget ran from the back stairs through the kitchen and I followed her. She ran to the sitting room door, put her hand on the door knob, turn it, turn it.
"His face has been cut." There was a part of me that wanted to push Bridget into the room, make her see what I had found.
She pulled her hand away from the knob and turned to me, owl eyes swooping over my face. A length of sweat trickled from her temple to collarbone. "What do ya mean?" she said.
Like a tiny looking glass inside my mind, I saw all of Father's blood, a meal, the leftovers from a wild dog's feast. The scraps of skin on his chest, his eye resting on his shoulder. His body the Book of Apocalypse. "Someone came in and cut him," I said.
Bridget was a-tremble. "What do ya mean, Miss Lizzie? How could someone cut his face?" Her voice soured, a tear. I didn't want her to cry, didn't want to have to comfort her.
"I'm not quite sure," I said. "They might have used an ax. Like taking down a tree."
Bridget began to cry and strange feelings popped across my bones. She faced the door and twisted her wrist, allowed the door to crack open an inch.
"Go get Dr. Bowen," I said. I looked past her, tried to see Father but couldn't.
Bridget turned to me, scratched her hand. "We should attend to yer father, Miss Lizzie ..."
"Go bring Dr. Bowen." I grabbed her hand, all rough and sticky, and walked her to the side door. "You'd best hurry, Bridget."
"Ya shouldn't be alone, Miss Lizzie."
"What if Mrs. Borden was to come home? Shouldn't I be here to tell her?" My teeth were cold against my teeth.
She looked into the sun. "Alright," she said. "I'll try ta be quick as I can."
Bridget ran out the side of the house, let the door hit her on the backside, a paddle, and she bobbed as she ran onto Second Street, her white house-bonnet a sail in the breeze. Bridget looked over her shoulder towards me, her face dumb with worry, and I shooed her along, my wrist a flick and crunch. She kept going, hip and shouldered an old woman, made her drop her walking cane, made her cry out, "What's the hurry, missy?" Bridget didn't respond, how naughty, disappeared from sight, and the woman picked up her cane, made it chink against stone, made a tacky-tacky sound.
I watched people pass by, liked the way their voices filled the air, made everything feel whole, and I felt my lips turn a smile as birds jumped over and under tree branches. For a moment I thought of capturing them, placing them in my pigeon aviary in the barn. How lucky they'd be with me to look after them. 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. I brought my hands to mouth and began drinking, lapping with my tongue. It was soft, delicate. Everything slowed down. I saw a dead pigeon lying gray and still in the yard and my stomach murmured. I looked into the sun. I thought of Father, tried to remember the last words I said to him. I took a pear from the arbor, walked back inside.
On the kitchen counter were johnnycakes. I wormed my fingers into their middles until they became small pieces of flour-rocks. I threw a handful of johnnycakes against the wall, listened to them crash in stale waves. Next I went to the stove, pulled the pot of mutton broth close to me and took a deep breath.
There was nothing but my thoughts and Father. I walked towards the sitting room, sank my teeth into the pear, stopped at the door. The clock on the mantel ticked ticked. My legs began to shake and drum into the floor and I took a bite of my pear to make them still. Behind the sitting room door was the smell of tobacco pipe.
"Father," I said. "Is that you?"
I opened the door wider then wider, sank my teeth into pear. Father was there on the sofa. He hadn't moved. Pear skin crisped in my mouth and I caught the smell again. "You ought to stop with the tobacco, Father. It makes your skin smell old."
On the floor next to the sofa was Father's pipe. I hooked the pipe under my teeth, my tongue pressed against the small mouthpiece. I breathed in. Outside I heard Bridget call like a banshee, "Miss Lizzie! Miss Lizzie!" I placed the pipe back on the floor, my fingers grazing circles of blood, and as I walked out of the room and half closed the door I took a peek at Father.
I opened the side door. Bridget looked a-fire, flame red, and she told me, "Dr. Bowen's not home."
Her response made me want to spit at her. "Go find him. Get someone. Get going," I said.
Her head jarred backwards. "Miss Lizzie, shouldn't we get Mrs. Borden?" Her voice an echo in a cave, enough with questions.
I cracked my heel into the floorboards, made the house moan then howl. "I told you, she's not here."
Bridget's forehead creased. "Where is she? We need ta get her right now." Annoying, insistent.
"Don't tell me what to do, Bridget." I heard my voice fold around doors and corners. The house; brittle bone under foot. Everything sounded louder than it should, hurt the ear.
"I'm sorry, Miss Lizzie." Bridget rubbed her hand.
"Go find someone else. Father really needs help."
Bridget let out a breath and I watched her run down the street, past a group of young children playing hopscotch. I took another bite of the pear and started to move away from the door.
From across the side fence I heard a woman call my name, felt the drilling of it, "Lizzie. Lizzie. Lizzie," bore into my ear. I squinted at a figure walking towards me. I pressed my face into the screen door, pieced together the shapes of familiarity. "Mrs. Churchill?" I said.
"Are you alright, dear? I heard Bridget hollering up and down the street and then I saw you standing at the door looking so lost." Mrs. Churchill came closer to the house, pulled at her red blouse.
On the back step she asked again, "Dear, are you alright?" and my heart beat fast, fast, fast and I told her, "Mrs. Churchill, do come in. Someone's killed Father."
Her eyes and nose scrunched, mouth hollowed into an O. A loud bang sounded from the basement; my neck twitched.
"This doesn't make sense," she said, a small voice. I opened the door, let her in. "Lizzie, what's happened?" she asked.
"I don't know. I came in and I saw him all cut up. He's in there." I pointed to the sitting room.
Mrs. Churchill slowed into the kitchen, rubbed her fat, clean fingers over her red-queen cheeks, rubbed them over her gold cameo necklace, covered her chest with her hands. There in all its shine, her gold and diamond wedding ring, I'd like to keep that. Her chest heaved, soft, child-suckled breasts, I waited for her heart to burst through ribcage onto the kitchen floor.
"Is he alone?" She was a mouse.
Mrs. Churchill took steps towards the sitting room door then stopped, looked at me. "Should I go in?"
"He's very hurt, Mrs. Churchill. But you could go in. If you wanted to."
She receded, came back by my side. I counted the times I had seen Father's body since I found it. My stomach growled.
"Where's your mother?" she asked.
I wrenched my head towards the ceiling, I hate that word, then closed my eyes. "She's gone to visit a sick relative."
"We really must get her, Lizzie." Mrs. Churchill tugged at my hand, tried to make me move.
My skin itched. I pulled away from her grip, scratched my palm. "I don't want to bother her right now."
"Lizzie, don't be ridiculous. This is an emergency." She scolded me like I was a child.
"You can see him, if you want."
She shook her head, baffled. "I don't think I can ..."
"I meant, if you saw him, you would see why it isn't a good idea to fetch Mrs. Borden."
Mrs. Churchill placed the back of her hand on my forehead. "You feel very hot, Lizzie. You're not thinking straight."
"I'm alright." My skin slid from underneath her hand.
Her eyes widened, threatened to outgrow the boundaries of bone, and I leaned towards Mrs. Churchill. She flinched. "Perhaps we should go outside, Lizzie ..."
I shook my head, absolute. "No. Father shouldn't be left alone."
Mrs. Churchill and I stood side by side, faced the sitting room door. I could hear her breathe, could hear saliva swish thick over her gums, could smell Castile soap and clove in her hair. The roof cracked, made the sitting room door feather open an inch and my toes wiggled a step then a step until I was a little closer to Father. "Mrs. Churchill," I said, "who do you think will wash his body when it comes time?"
She looked at me as if I spoke foreign words. "I'm ... not really sure."
"Perhaps my sister could do it." I turned to her, watched sadness tiptoe across her brow and gave her a smile, cheer up now, cheer up.
Her lips parted, a sea. "Let's not worry about that."
"Oh. Alright." I turned to face the sitting room door again.
We were quiet for a time. My palm itched. I thought of using my teeth to scratch, went to bring my hand to my mouth when Mrs. Churchill said, "When did it happen, Lizzie?"
I rushed my hand to my side. "I'm not sure. I was outside then I came in and he was hurt. Bridget was upstairs. Now he's dead." I tried to think but everything slowed. "Isn't that funny? I can't remember what I was doing. Does that ever happen to you, forgetting the simplest of things?"
"I suppose so, yes." Her words slurped out.
"He said he wasn't feeling well and wanted to be alone. So I kissed him, left him asleep on the sofa and went outside." The roof popped. "That's all I can remember."
Mrs. Churchill placed her hand on my shoulder, patted me, made me warm and tingle. "Don't push yourself, dear. This is all very ... unnatural."
Mrs. Churchill wiped her eyes, made them red with tears and rubbing. She looked strange. "This can't be happening," she said. She looked strange and I tried not to think of Father alone on the sofa.
My skin itched. I scratched. "I'm really thirsty, Mrs. Churchill," I said.
She stared at me, ruby-eyed, and went to the kitchen counter. She poured water from a jug and handed me a cup. The water looked cloud warm. I sipped. I thought of Father. The water was tar down my throat. I should have poured it onto the floor and asked Mrs. Churchill to clean it up, get me something fresh. I sipped again. "Thank you," I said. I smiled.
Mrs. Churchill came close to me, wrapped her arm around my shoulder and held tight. She leaned into me and began whispering but there was the smell of sour yogurt snaking out from somewhere inside her and it made me dizzy. I pushed her away.
"We need to get your mother, Lizzie."
There was noise coming from outside, coming closer to the side of the house, and Mrs. Churchill ran to the side door and opened it. Standing in front of me were Mrs. Churchill, Bridget and Dr. Bowen. "I found him, miss," Bridget said. She tried to slow her breathing, she sounds like an old dog. "I went as fast as I could."
Dr. Bowen pushed his silver, round-rimmed glasses up his narrow nose and said, "Where is he?"
I pointed to the sitting room.
Dr. Bowen, his wrinkled forehead. "Are you alright, Lizzie? Did anybody try to hurt you?" His voice smooth, honey-milked.
"The person who hurt your father. They didn't try to hurt you too?"
"I've seen no one. No one is hurt but Father," I said. The floorboards stretched beneath my feet and for a moment I thought I would sink.
Dr. Bowen stood in front of me and reached for my wrist, big hands, and he breathed out and in, his air swiping my lips. I licked them. His fingers pressed into skin until they felt blood. "Your pulse is too fast, Lizzie. I'll remedy that as soon as I check your father."
I nodded. "Would you like me to come in with you?"
Dr. Bowen. "That's ... unnecessary."
"Oh," I said.
Dr. Bowen took off his jacket and handed it to Bridget. He headed for the sitting room, took his brown, weathered leather medical bag with him. I held my breath. He opened the door like a secret, pushed his body into the room. I heard him gasp, say, "Lord Jesus." The door was open just enough. Somewhere behind me Mrs. Churchill screamed and I snapped my head towards her. She screamed again, the way people do in nightmares, and her noise rattled through my body, made my muscles tighten and ache. "I didn't want to see him. I didn't want to see him," Mrs. Churchill screamed. Bridget howled, dropped Dr. Bowen's coat on the floor. The women held each other and sobbed.
I wanted them to stop. I didn't appreciate how they reacted to Father like that, they are shaming him. I went to Dr. Bowen, stood next to him at the edge of the sofa and tried to block sight of Father's body. Bridget called, "Miss Lizzie, don't go in there." The room was still and Dr. Bowen pushed me away. "Lizzie," he said, "you mustn't be in here."
"I just want ..."
"You cannot be in here anymore. Stop looking at your father." He pushed me from the room and shut the door. Mrs. Churchill screamed again and I covered my ears. I listened to my heart beat until everything felt numb.
After a time, Dr. Bowen came out of the room, all pale and sweat, and yelled, "Summon the police." He bit his lip, his jaw a tiny thunder. On his fingertips were little drops of blood confetti, and I tried to imagine the ways he had touched Father.
"It's their annual picnic," Mrs. Churchill whispered. "No one will be at the station." She rubbed her eyes, made them raw.
I wanted her to stop crying and so I smiled and said, "It's alright. They'll come eventually. Everything will be alright, won't it, Dr. Bowen?"
Dr. Bowen eyed me and I looked at his hands. I thought of Father.
I was four when I first met Mrs. Borden. She let me eat spoonfuls of sugar when Father wasn't watching. How my tongue sang! "Can you keep secrets, Lizzie?" Mrs. Borden asked.
I nodded my head. "I can keep the best secrets." I hadn't even told Emma that I loved our new mother.
She spooned sugar into my mouth, my cheeks tight with the sweet surge. "Let's keep our sugar meal between you and me."
I nodded and nodded until everything was dizzy. Later, when I was running through the house yelling, "Karoo! Karoo!" and climbed over the sitting room sofa, Father yelled, "Emma, did you let Lizzie into the sugar?" Emma came into the sitting room, head bowed. "No, Father. I swear it."
I ran by them and Father caught me by the arm, a pull at my socket. "Lizzie," he said while I giggled and hawed, "did you eat something you weren't meant to?"
"I ate fruit."
Father came right into my face, smelled like butter cake. "And nothing else?"
"And nothing else." I laughed.
Emma looked at me, tried to peer into my mouth.
"Are you lying?" Father asked.
"No, Daddy. I would never."
He had searched me over, searched dimpled cheeks for signs of disobedience. I smiled. He smiled. Off I went again, running and jumping and I passed Mrs. Borden in the kitchen and she winked at me.
When the police arrived a short time later they began taking photos of the dark-gray suit Father wore to work that morning, of his black leather boots still tied over ankles and feet. Flashbulbs broke every six seconds. The young police photographer said he would prefer not to photograph the old man's head. "Couldn't someone else do it? Please?" he said, wiped the back of his hand over his forehead, like oil was dripping from his head.
An older officer told him to go outside while they found a real man to finish the job. They didn't need a man. A daughter would suffice. I had lovingly looked after Father all morning and his face didn't scare me. I should have said, "How many photographs do you want? How close would you like me to get? Which angle will lead you to the murderer?"
Instead, Dr. Bowen gave me a shot of beautiful warm medicine underneath my skin that made me feel feathery and strange. They seated me in the dining room with Mrs. Churchill and Bridget and said, "You don't mind that we ask each of you some questions, do you?"
The little room was cloying and heavy with the odor of warm bodies and grass, of police mouths smelling of half-digested chicken and damp yeast. "Of course not," Mrs. Churchill said. "But I shall not discuss the state Mr. Borden was in." She started to cry, made a whirlwind sound. In my mind I drifted away to the upstairs of the house where everyone became an echo. I thought of Father.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "See What I Have Done"
Copyright © 2017 Sarah Schmidt.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Fall River timeline,
Last will and testament excerpts,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoyed the book, but became frustrated with Lizzie Borden's behavior. I couldn't figure out if the author was depicting her as insane, or having some sort of mental disorder such as being bipolar, or some sort of psychopathic tendencies. Hard to know if she was living in a fantasy, or was just incredibly indulged by her family, and as a result was allowed to pursue whatever desires (however inappropriate) with tragic results. All the women in this story were incredibly repressed due in no small part to the time in which they lived, and terrible dysfunction of this family. Did Lizzie Borden kill her parents? I don't think the book really answers the question. Or what the motivation Lizzie Borden had to capably pull off the murders. I grew impatient with Lizzie Borden's personality depicted in the book. The development of her character was too vague, and obnoxious. No one held her accountable for any of her suspect behavior leading up to the murders. And all the descriptions of eating spoiled "mutton broth" and getting sick, didn't anyone in that family connect that throwing up so violently after eating was caused by rotten food? And they kept doing it throughout the book. Even in the Era it took place in, people would begin to question the logic of eating spoiled food and getting violently ill afterwards. I can't believe they were that stupid. There are some hints that Lizzie Borden was poisoning her family in the book. But again, it was vague, and only hinted at. The details were fuzzy in this book, perhaps intentional by the author? I would have liked more of an explanation for the behavior of the characters.
Lizzie's portions of the book were quite the headtrip. Making sense of everything in her world was quite a ride. I did very much enjoy the varying perspectives and the general layout of this novel. It was certainly interesting to read everyone's thoughts and point of view as the story got pieced together slowly. I enjoyed this book and how everything came to be laid out by the end. There were still questions floating around in my mind, but I liked that I was left to speculate a bit.
See What I Have Done is an interpretation of the Lizzie Borden case from 1892. On August 4th, the housemaid Bridget hears Lizzie screaming: "Someone has killed father!" and from that scene the whole plot develops. The book follows several characters, their POVs and perspectives surrounding the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden. Where's the murder weapon? Had someone broke in? Who had motives? There's a lot of unanswered questions and with every new chapter the author subtlety shows us why we should think someone did it and then why he/she is innocent. I had never heard of the Borden mystery before reading this so it was all brand new to me. Although the ARC has some formatting issues that slowed down my reading, I really enjoyed how the story was structured. Lizzie Borden is... A character. From page one I thought she was so revengeful and mad, and couldn't stop thinking that she'd make a great villain in other stories. Not that she's not in here. The way she treats and manipulates her older sister, Emma, is frustrating - at some points I just wanted to hold her down and yell to Emma: RUN, NOW! RUN AND BE FREE OF HER! Although the story was REALLY interesting and got me interested in researching more about the original story, I thought it dragged on in a few facts and storylines that were unnecessary. Again, I don't know how much of it was taken from the original case or created by the author. Even though it's not a long book it took me a long time to read it. It's an interesting and engaging mystery and I'd recommend it to those who are already familiar with the genre. Slow paced, but good writing.
Ever felt like you are never understood? Whatever you are doing in life, choices you are making and it all goes unnoticed? And when you are noticed it's for a tiny mistake that you made and everything gets blown out of proportion. That is what it's like to live in the Borden house. Every. Single. Day. Andrew Borden is a respectable man, one with stature in the community, one that is known for his smarts and of course for being rich. His new bride Abby is known for her love of food. Not cooking it, just eating it. Then their are his two children from his first wife. Sisters. Emma, the oldest and Lizzie, the baby. Two beautiful girls that love their family and are always side by side in everything and anything they do. Perfect family the Borden's. Many a people try and take a peak inside the Borden's home but of course there is nothing to see so why bother right? To Emma and Lizzie, it would be a wonderful sight for people to actually look into the windows and see the goings on in the Borden house. For if ONE soul could have seen what took place day in and day out, maybe just maybe Andrew and Abby wouldn't have had to meet their maker they way they did. Maybe there wouldn't be any more turmoil. No more secrets. If only someone would've looked. Lizzie wakes the neighbors up with the horrible news that someone broke into her house and butchered her father in his study room. The town is a buzzin', the cops are a thinking and there sits poor Lizzie. With a sister out of town and Miss Abby gone on shopping Lizzie has to hold herself together till things start settling down. That is until someone finds Abby butchered in her room. The death of the two Borden's shakes the town more than a tornado ever could. With Emma finally home things should start calming down. That is until questions start being asked and answers don't seem all that simple anymore. How do you make people listen to you? What are some drastic measures do you have to take to finally get acknowledged for the things that you do? This story tells the tale of the most sinister and brutal murder to ever take place in a family home by hands of an unknown name. Many times death brings people together. Other times it separates them. But if you only have each other, who do you turn to for help? Told from different points of views we see how murder can change not just one person, for a whole community and how family means everything especially in rough times. We are taught that when the going gets tough rely on family to help. But what if family isn't the safest thing to rely on? **** What a breathtaking tale of family, murder and illness all rolled into one. The deaths of Andrew and Abby Borden is still unsolved after all of this time and there are so many speculations of what went down that unforgettable day in 1892 that it's amazing what Sarah Schmidt has done in this book. She made it so real from the first chapter all the way to the last. I loved how she had every chapter was a different point of view from different people of different class of what "could" have happened the days leading up to the murder and the days after the murder. I believe she really captured what could have happened and even left some speculation at the end of "what do you think" could have happened. Like suspense? Like true crime? Then you will totally want to read this book.
The re-imagining of the Lizzie Borden murder case. I vaguely recall hearing about this and after reading See What I Have Done it has fascinated me further. Some of you may recognise the rhyme: Lizzie Borden took an axe, And gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, She gave her father forty-one. Sarah Schmidt has a vivid imagination to add fiction to the ‘real’ story. August 1892 in Massachusetts, Andrew and Abby Borden are found murdered in their home, horrifically attacked with an axe. Daughter Lizzie, was accused of the crime. Did she really do it? The Borden household was a strange one, family dynamics are slightly weird to say the least. There is an eerie atmospheric feel to the whole book, while I was intrigued it wasn’t necessarily an easy read. You need a strong stomach at times with the graphic descriptive writing. Told from four viewpoints it can get a bit confusing in places, but curiosity kept me reading. The characters are all flawed so there isn’t much need for sympathy. Without a full knowledge of the situation I could only surmise what was actual fact or fiction. I confess I did google it and gained a wider understanding so in that respect the book has aided my awareness of history! Of course by doing this I knew how it was likely to end but I savoured the voyage of discovery. I particularly liked the timeline of events in the back of the book .. that sums it all up quite nicely. I understand this is the debut novel by this author so it would be interesting to see what she can produce as a total work of fiction. Thanks to the author, publisher, netgalley for my copy and Anne Cater for inviting me onto the tour. I read and reviewed voluntarily.
If ,after reading this book ,you have any question as to the author's conclusion regarding Lizzie Borden's guilt , you have obviously not read carefully enough . This Family gives a whole new level to the concept of disfunction. A gripping debut novel .
Retellings and historical fiction occupy a large portion of space among my shelves. True crime and mysteries equally reside next to them. So picking up See What I Have Done was an effortless process. A historical re-imagining of the Borden murders offered promises of intrigue and suspense that were not to be ignored. Schmidt provides a fictionalized glimpse into the days before, during and after the Borden axe murders that kicks off with Lizzie’s discovery of her father’s gruesome death. What ensues is a somewhat odd tale offered through multiple points of view. We are introduced to Lizzie, her family and those immediately involved through a series of narration that felt at times, unnecessary and missed the mark for me on a few levels. I struggled with the alternating perspectives, as I found myself lacking interest when not directly engaged with Lizzie’s story. The addition of alternating PoV read more like a distraction that took from the overall effect as opposed to adding to it. I did enjoy being introduced to the remaining Borden family and maid Bridget, but I would have personally preferred to experience this tale solely through the eyes of our young protagonist. I struggled with the relaxed pace and absence of urgency. I anticipated more excitement surrounding the heinous crime that was committed in the Borden household. I did come to appreciate the rich, atmospheric and slow burn style of story that was supplied with a truly unique prose, but ultimately encountered a few issues that hindered my time with the book. Unfortunately, my digital copy was riddled with formatting and grammatical errors that created a challenge, and I often found myself walking away in frustration. While See What I Have Done failed to fully capture my interest, I feel the author’s original take on an infamous mystery will still offer a unique experience that many will find great value in. If you have ever found yourself fascinated in the story of Lizzie Borden, I urge you to explore this novel and form your own opinion.
This book was interesting and strange. Through four different viewpoints, the reader visits the Borden household in the summer of 1892 at the time of Lizzie Borden's father and stepmother's murders. We see the home through the eyes of 30-ish year old Lizzie, her 10-years older sister Emma, the Irish housemaid, Bridget, and a man named Benjamin who'd been sent by Emma and Lizzie's uncle John to "handle a problem", though the problem is never really spelled out. It's presumed to be financial. There are many physical descriptions and metaphors to increase the sense of oppression in the Borden household: the August heat, the ticking clock, tongues running over teeth, the licking of blood from hands. There is food poisoning from a pot of mutton soup that's been cooked and reheated all week, odors of dead rodents in the walls, and the beheading of Lizzie's pet pigeons for fear of lice. It's not a book for the squeamish. The book was interesting because it introduces the idea that there were several people who may have had reason and desire to see the Bordens dead. Each unreliable narrator makes one wonder which one it was. If you don't know the story of Lizzie Borden, even from the childhood poem, it would likely help to read up on it before reading this book. Lizzie struck me as either simple/developmentally delayed, mentally ill, ridiculously spoiled or perhaps some of all three. I felt sympathy for all of the characters. Even though I liked Lizzie the least because she was so difficult, I still felt bad for her. It was a well written book, and I enjoyed the close-up exploration of the possibilities of the very sad, real life crime and characters. I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
Hats off to Sarah Schmidt for being able to immerse herself into a dark, atrocious event and find humanity in these sick, twisted characters. Told in 4 alternating points of view, the book leaves us with more questions than answers about the Borden murders; in this horrible, dysfunctional, family motives for murder abounded. But the point of this book isn't to know, but to feel. I felt sadness, pity, frustration, and anger toward this real-life cast of characters. The descriptions were evocative at a sensory level: gut-wrenching renditions of dead bodies, cringe-inducing portrayals of acts of violence, even the food was repulsive. Needless to say, this book is not a light read, but the creepy darkness is appropriate for the subject matter and it is a worthy read. I will definitely be looking for Sarah Schmidt's next novel. Thank you to NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
A great spin on the Lizzie Borden tale. Schmidt builds an eerie, atmospheric psychological retelling that makes this familiar story feel new. The four narrators give perspectives into the relationships behind the story. I really enjoyed that while you can feel sympathy for the backstory Schmidt builds for Lizzie, Lizzie herself is not likeable. I left debating whether she is mentally ill or just the most self-centered being around. If you like stories that make old tales fresh again, then this is the Lizzie Borden story for you.
I did not like this book at all. I'm a huge historical fiction and crime fan but I couldn't get into this one. I don't know how it's possible to make Lizzie Borden boring but this was about as exciting as reading a calculus textbook. It was very descriptive about everything which is fine except there was so much detail about vomit and things I just don't need repeated detail about. Over and over. I started skimming at 80% because I lost interest and couldn't give it any more of my time. When reading gets painful it's time to move on! Thank you to Grove Atlantic for providing an Electronic Advance Reader Copy via NetGalley for review.
Australian author Sarah Schmidt’s debut is a clever, gritty, vision of one of the most infamous unsolved crimes of history, beginning on the morning of the murder, when Lizzie calls the maid, telling her: “Someone’s killed Father”. These things are true: Lizzie Borden was born 19 July 1860 in Fall River, Massachusetts, she lived and died in that same town. Lizzie Andrew Borden, her full name, was tried and acquitted in 1892 for the murders of her father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts, the location of the murders was the home that they shared. The main characters in ”See What I Have Done” were the actual people in and out of the home, Lizzie’s older sister, Emma, her father Andrew, her stepmother Abby, Bridget is the maid, whose only dream is to return to her family in Ireland. John, Emma and Lizzie’s Uncle who is their mother’s – the first Mrs. Borden - brother. Schmidt excels at making you want to really understand Lizzie Borden, get under her skin, making you want to figure out who she is, and if she’s done what the famous folk rhyme says she’s done, showing you so many possible diverse sides to this story. For those of you who didn’t skip rope to this chant: Lizzie Borden took an axe And gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, She gave her father forty-one. Yes, really. Up there with “Ring around the Rosie” and it’s rumoured background of it being about the Plague. Told from different perspectives – Schmidt delivers a rather cryptic, strange, and disturbed peek into the thoughts of Lizzie, but no one is left to appear innocent. While the act itself is a fact, there remains the obvious who-done-it question. The narrators include Emma and Lizzie, daughters of Sarah Anthony (Morse) Borden, the first Mrs. Borden, Bridget, the (Irish) family maid, and Benjamin, a man hired by Uncle John, an “outsider.” A wonderful debut novel, this is a captivating, spellbinding and, at times, unsettling read. For me, exceptionally disquieting moments were when I was reading Lizzie’s thoughts, dark and disturbed one moment and filled with a childlike admiration and love the next – but always relayed in this childlike voice, as though she’s forever trapped in childhood. Lizzie is also a fairly fragmented, unreliable narrator, but then again, I wasn’t counting on her for an accurate retelling. Emma has her own unique view on life and her desire to shield of Lizzie, Lizzie was so young when their mother died and Emma feels responsible for Lizzie. Bridget stands out as voice of reason, contributing her the “behind the scenes” portrait of this uniquely different household in her levelheaded way, but as a maid her voice is quieted to almost a whisper. Benjamin has more than enough troubles of his own and Uncle John owes him, but he fills in his views. I’m not sure how one would write a novel on this without including some gruesome details, but all things considered they are fairly minimal – although I would caution against eating while reading this for those with sensitive tummies. For those disturbed by this dark tale, I would recommend a dose of the Chad Mitchell Trio’s “Lizzie Borden” which I believe is only found on YouTube (unless you happen to have an old 45 of this), a much lighter take on Lizzie’s tale … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wlO-... which I found only because I was curious if there was ever a song in addition to the folk rhyme chant. Recommended – with a cautionary twist Pub Date: 01 Aug 2017
We all know the story of Lizzie Borden: “Lizzie Borden took an axe And gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, She gave her father forty-one.” This debut novel from Sarah Schmidt describes what seems like what happened the day of the murders of Mr. and Mrs. Borden. This book is told by four people: Lizzie, Emma, Bridget, and Benjamin. Going through each individual part, they each have their own story to tell. There are some things I actually learned from this book. I never knew that Mrs. Borden was their stepmother, for example. I liked this book, but it didn’t do spectacular things for me. I think that Sarah Schmidt did a great job for her debut novel. This story was pretty interesting, and how she wrote it was pretty cool too. This is what she posted on her Goodreads page: “I met Lizzie Borden in a second hand bookstore when a pamphlet about the Borden case fell off a shelf and landed at my feet. I wasn’t interested in the case whatsoever. I put it back and left the shop. That night I dreamt of Lizzie sitting at the end of my bed and she told me, ‘I have something to tell you about my father. He has a lot to answer for.’ It was one of the creepiest and most unsettling dreams I’d ever had but I ignored it, tried to go back to sleep. I had the same dream every night for a week. So I decided to write the dream down hoping it would go away. That was the very beginning of See What I Have Done. I had no idea it would take me 11 years to write it.” This response, the synopsis, and the cover are what interested me in this book in the first place. This seems like she really thought about this book a lot, especially if it took 11 years to write. First, the characters were all very good. I think Lizzie was the best in my opinion (as she should be). Sarah Schmidt made Lizzie come to life as a young girl who’s living with the explosive personality of her father and the spite of her stepmother. Sarah Schmidt really writes Lizzie like she is crazy, and I appreciate that so much. Emma moved out and receives the news that her father has been murdered. It seems like there is sadness there, but not too much. Benjamin is just a weird, weird guy. Every time I read his parts I thought the same thing over and over again. I thought that the story was brilliant, but it just didn’t have the pizzazz for me. It didn’t shine like I expected it to. The writing style seemed a little slow at times, especially during the middle section of the book. There were some parts where I felt like I was reading the same thing over and over again. It definitely felt repetitive at times, but towards the end, it really picked up for me. I was very happy about that because I didn’t have a problem finishing the book. The ending was very, very good and I love the way Sarah Schmidt wrote it. The last thing that I was confused on were the flashbacks and taking the reader to a different time. I feel like they were a bit out of place, and made me have to stop and go back. It stopped flowing for me a few times, unfortunately. Overall, I think this book had a lot of potential and was good, but it definitely had it’s flaws. It’s expected from a debut novelist that it will have flaws, but I think Sarah Schmidt did very well. I love the story of how this ended up being written, and the cover makes me have heart eyes. I think this book is a job well done, and Sarah Schmidt should continue writing her dreams into reality!
See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is a recommended retelling of the story of Lizzie Borden during a limited time span. On the morning of August 4, 1892 Andrew and Abby Borden were brutally murdered in their home located in Fall River, Massachusetts. This historical fiction novel retells that story through four different characters: Lizzie Borden; Bridget, the housemaid; Emma Borden, the older sister; and Benjamin, an acquaintance of the sisters’ maternal uncle, John Morse. Schmidt tells a story that highlights what the respectable Borden household was really like. Andrew was abusive and had an explosive temper. Abby, Andrew's second wife and stepmother to the girls, was a needy, spiteful woman. Emma wants to escape from the household and live an artistic life. Lizzie is portrayed as child-like, unreliable, clinging, angry, and manipulative. Bridget sees all and wants to leave but Abby has recently taken her tin with all her savings inside it. Benjamin is a violent thug and unpredictable. The novel attempts to bring to life these characters and the events surrounding the murders. Lizzie is depicted as so child-like and, well, odd, that you will wonder if she was mentally unstable. You may also be wondering this about Andrew and Abby. Bridget is trapped in a household she wants to leave. The same could be said of Emma. She wants out but is stopped at every attempt. The murders are more just discovering the bodies and the reactions to the state they were in rather than extended gruesome descriptions. The writing is very good and Schmidt succeeds in creating a tension-filled atmosphere in the novel making it a psychological historical thriller. Each character has an individual voice and you will know who is talking in the chapter. I will have to admit that I didn't necessarily find this a compelling or insightful novel. Schmidt has chosen in this account to focus on what happened the day before and the day of the murders rather than Lizzie's subsequent arrest, trial, and acquittal. It takes the focus of See What I Have Done and places it on the actual dysfunctional family dynamics. It might have helped my review if Schmidt had provided an epilogue stating what was based on fact and any liberties she took for fiction. I knew what I imagine was an average amount about the historical case and actually had to look up the information. She does provide a timeline of historical events at the end of the novel. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grove Atlantic.