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See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
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See What I Have Done

by Sarah Schmidt

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Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
I enjoyed this book, especially the first half where Schmidt describes the Borden house of horrors in excruciating and often nauseating detail. I could almost taste that rancid pot of mutton stew on the Bordon's stove, making me thankful I'm thankful I'm a vegetarian.

Really, what took Lizzie so long to snap?

Ultimately,the novel suffers from too many narrators--I'm not sure why that fellow Benjamin is around. He's not a proper red herring as Lizzie's guilt was never really in question, and he didn't add much to the narrative. There was also a nod to a murder conspiracy, but this was never developed. I also thought there were too many confusing and ineffective shifts in time. Because of this clutter and confusion, the novel lagged at the end, blunting what should have been a suspenseful ending.

As a novel of psychological horror, the suspense stems from Lizzie's madness, when the reader recognizes the full depth of Lizzie's depravity. But due to the novel's structural problems, that delicious frisson of terror is missing.

Still, Sarah Schmidt is a talented writer and this well-written novel is a welcome addition to the Lizzie Borden oeuvre and required reading for all of Lizzie's fans. ( )
  darylanderson | Apr 25, 2018 |
This title came to my attention when it appeared on the longlist of the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction. It offers an interesting retelling of the famous August 4, 1892 double murders for which Lizzie Borden was tried but acquitted.

The author’s re-imagining focuses on the events of August 3 – August 6 as narrated by four first-person narrators: 32-year-old Lizzie; Emma, Lizzie’s 42-year-old sister; Bridget, the Borden family maid; and Benjamin, a man hired by John Morse, the girl’s maternal uncle, who witnesses some of the events at the Borden home.

To call the Borden household dysfunctional is almost an understatement. Abby, the girls’ stepmother and the first victim, has a rancorous relationship with her step-daughters who have never fully accepted her as a mother. Andrew, the girls’ father and the second victim, is overbearing, mean-spirited, critical, and miserly. The marriage does not seem especially happy; Lizzie mentions that “[Father and Mrs. Borden] did that from time to time, their being friendly and pleasant to one another.” Lizzie is a selfish, manipulative attention-seeker, whereas Emma resents her father’s favouritism towards Lizzie and living “with a sibling who would never give me up.” Uncle John, whom everyone seems to dislike, seems overly interested in the family money and “had a strange way with [Lizzie], all that holding and stroking.” Even Bridget is unhappy, longing to return to her family in Ireland.

The house is full of simmering resentments and frustrations. Lizzie wants to go on another European grand tour, and Emma wants a life that will “take me away from the family, from Father. . . . having to abide by what they wanted versus what I wanted.” Bridget saves her money so she can go home but Abby always manipulates her into staying; when she tells Abby her intention, Mrs. Borden’s response is telling: “’You shouldn’t be allowed to just leave!’ she bellowed, she wailed.”

At one point, Bridget says, “’This place is no good.’” And, indeed, the house itself, which is always creaking, seems to have absorbed all the simmering tension. Because doors and windows are always locked, it is swelteringly hot and everyone sweats. Like emotions are repressed, odours are trapped. A mutton broth sits on the stove and has been reheated for the family all week; it is probably the reason why everyone has digestive upset, resulting in the stench of vomit permeating the house.

Lizzie’s narration is the most unusual. From the beginning, her mind is shown to be disordered at best. Sometimes she speaks in a type of baby talk, repeating words: “The clock on the mantel ticked ticked” and “My heart beat nightmares, gallop, gallop” and “I went to the pail of water by the well, let my hands sink into the cool sip sip.” Some of her descriptions are rather unusual: “My legs began to shake and drum into the floor and I took a bite of my pear to make them still.” Certainly her first reaction on seeing her father’s body is bizarre: she says, “’You ought to stop with the tobacco, Father. It makes your skin smell old.’” Is her confusion when describing her actions an indication of a dissociative fugue?

Benjamin’s narration, however, is the least interesting. He gives the perspective of an outsider but he really adds little to the story. His association with the creepy uncle and his proclivity for brutality do for a time suggest another suspect in the case, but I found his narrative to be a distraction. Are his psychopathic tendencies supposed to mirror those of the Bordens’ killer? He is used to fill in some of the details of the trial and subsequent events, but I would have appreciated Emma’s perspective more.

The only family member who elicits the reader’s sympathy is Emma. As a teenager, she made a promise to her dying mother, a promise which Lizzie does not let her forget: “’Don’t think you can go live without me. You’re breaking your promise to Mother. You’re selfish, Emma.’” Because of Lizzie, Emma gives up on love and has to live with the realization that “I had made the wrong decision.” She lists some of what she sacrificed for her sister: “All of it for Lizzie. My flesh heated. How could Father not have noticed?” At one point Emma concludes, “I knew deep down that I ought to abandon the fanciful and take what was real, that I lived with my father and stepmother, lived with a sibling who would never give me up. My time to be anything, anyone, had slipped. I had to live with that disappointment.”

Readers should be warned that their senses will suffer an onslaught: the author excels at auditory, gustatory and olfactory imagery. And in the end, readers may even be convinced that events did in fact occur as the novel describes.

Note: Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
1 vote Schatje | Apr 7, 2018 |
I really enjoyed this book. It was creepy, well written and really kept me interested.
It doesn't go into depth about the details of the murder or details of the trial of Lizzy Borden.
Very enjoyable book. ( )
  LittleMummyMe | Apr 3, 2018 |
Mehhhhhhhhhhh. 2.5 stars. This wasn't anything new from the zillion other Lizzie Borden stories out there. And I frankly strongly disliked the way pretty much everyone was portrayed. It's like writers forget that these were real people and thus end up writing borderline offensive portrayals of them.

There's not much to say about this book. We don't really get any special insight into any of the characters that, again, we haven't seen elsewhere. It's really a shame, especially since I was so looking forward to it. ( )
  majesdane | Apr 2, 2018 |
On 4 August 1892, a horrifying murder takes place in the little town of Fall River, Massachusetts. Andrew Borden and his second wife Abby are found hacked to death at home. Andrew’s eldest daughter Emma is away, staying with a friend; his younger daughter Lizzie, who finds his body, is unbalanced with shock. No one seems to have heard anything. As the blood seeps into the floors and fabrics of the Borden household, the questions begin; but there is more simmering beneath the surface of this strange family than anyone can hope to comprehend. In this unsettling, claustrophobic novel, Sarah Schmidt evokes the miasma of jealousy, resentment, loneliness and mental instability that result in the shocking events of that August afternoon....

For the full review, please see my blog:
https://theidlewoman.net/2018/04/01/see-what-i-have-done-sarah-schmidt/ ( )
  TheIdleWoman | Apr 1, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
The oddness, and the interest, of See What I Have Done is its ability to inveigle the reader to spend so much time with the Borden family. These characters are, almost without exception, each strange and terrible in their own ways, and their struggles to have lives they can call their own raise for us enduring questions about autonomy and family attachment.
 
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Epigraph
We outgrow love like other things
And put it in the drawer


Emily Dickenson
Knowlton: 'You have been on pleasant terms with your step-mother since then?'

Lizzie: 'Yes Sir.'

Knowlton: 'Cordial?'

Lizzie: 'It depends upon one's idea of cordiality, perhaps.'

Lizzie Borden's inquest testimony
Dedication
For Cody.
And for Alan and Rose who left before I could finish.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802126596, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 03 Jan 2017 16:59:41 -0500)

"See what I have done, Sarah Schmidt's "eerie and compelling" (Paula Hawkins) debut novel, is a wholly unique reimagining of the infamous true story of Lizzie Borden, who gained celebrity status after being tried and acquitted for the murders of her father and stepmother. On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to the maid: Someone's killed father. The brutal axe-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their house in Fall River, Massachusetts ignites a series of domestic nightmares. From the outside, no one can understand why anyone would want to murder the respected Bordens. From the inside, sisters Lizzie and Emma have a different tale to tell. Both unmarried and intimately bound together in a stifling environment, they each struggle against their oppressive home-life while longing for independence. As the police fail to find clues, Lizzie tries to make sense of the moments leading up to the discovery of the bodies. But there are other witnesses to the crime. Through the overlapping perspectives of Emma, the housemaid Bridget, the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, and the fascinating Lizzie herself, the ghosts of their pasts resurface and return to that fateful day. Shocking and riveting, Schmidt's nuanced, high-wire narration recasts a sensational true story into a sensitive and human portrayal of a volatile, tortured family, and what it means to be free and truly loved"-- "Lizzie Borden took an axe 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 spellbinding murder cases of all time into a sensitive and humane portrait of two sisters caught inside a volatile household -- and what it means to be free and truly loved. On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid Bridget: Someone's killed father. The discovery of the brutal axe-murders of Andrew and Abby Borden under their own roof in Fall River, Massachusetts paralyzes the small community. No one can understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens. But secret witnesses to the crime have a different tale to tell -- of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful step-mother; 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 flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? Before or after she last spoke to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Through the overlapping perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, we return to what happened on that fateful day"--… (more)

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