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See What I Have Done

by Sarah Schmidt

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7096925,181 (3.28)57
When her father and stepmother are found brutally murdered on a summer morning in 1892, Lizzie Borden - thirty-two years old and still living at home - immediately becomes a suspect. But after a notorious trial, she is found innocent, and no one is ever convicted of the crime. Meanwhile, others in the claustrophobic Borden household have their own motives and their own stories to tell: Lizzie's unmarried older sister, a put-upon Irish housemaid, and a boy hired by Lizzie's uncle to take care of a problem.… (more)
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For her debut novel, author Sarah Schmidt chose to tackle the famous Lizzie Borden case. More than a hundred years later, this double murder is still discussed and new theories are still be put forward. Although it becomes clear that the author strongly suspects Lizzie of killing her father and step-mother, she doesn’t settle the mystery but instead explores the characters around the murder and has the reader constantly wondering what does Lizzie know and what did she do.

Lizzie and her sister Emma are ten years apart in age, with Lizzie being thirty-two and Emma forty-two at the time of the murders. Both sisters had problems with their controlling father and step-mother, but Emma was out of town at the time of the murders so Lizzie was the sister who came under suspicion. Lizzie also apparently had a history of instability. There was also Bridget, the maid, whose savings Mrs. Borden had taken, Uncle John, brother of the sister’s dead mother, who disapproved of how the sisters were being treated, and a stranger, Benjamin, hired by Uncle John, to set his brother-in-law straight.

The story shifts perspective between the characters as the day of the murder is re-imagined, and we are drawn into this unhealthy family full of resentments and frustrations. The author writes in a very descriptive way, about the emotions, actions, sights and smells that percolate as tensions mount to the eventual boil. Atmospheric, chilling and dark, See What I Have Done is an intense read and an excellent debut. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Oct 6, 2021 |
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. ( )
  WriterChris | Oct 5, 2021 |
This one didn't really do it for me. We all know the story of Lizzie Borden and one of the most famous unsolved crimes in North America. This book concentrates on the three days surrounding the murder of Abby and Andrew Borden in 1892, going over events from the perspectives of Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the family maid Bridget and a fictional add-in to the historical story: a drifter named Benjamin. What the author did very well was set the mood; the tone is gothic and creepy from beginning to end.

However, she may have overplayed her hand. Way too many references to bodily functions and odors; to creaking walls and floors; to sloppy, gross eating. And the dialogue between Emma and Lizzie was unrealistic. They speak and act like children although both are over 30. I found this distracted me from the story. ( )
  LynnB | Sep 15, 2021 |
Ow, the disappointment of this one. I looked forward to it for months. I’ll generally read up anything and everything and all the things about the Lizzie Borden case, so this fictionalized retelling was right up my alley.

Then, when it finally landed in my hands, I just … couldn’t … get into it. The writing was stilted and didn’t suck me in, and the author didn’t offer much to entice me to keep turning the pages. So I didn’t. I called it quits around page 77, and I almost never DNF books. I found myself wrinkling my nose and had no motivation to continue, and when you’ve got a really long TBR list that won’t read itself — life’s too short, eh?
  angelahaupt | Jun 15, 2021 |
Where this book shoots itself in the foot – or I guess whacks itself in the head with a hatchet – is by somehow trying to be both too much and not enough all at once. It takes strong liberties in one area, and then holds back everywhere else, leaving us with an unbalanced book filled with ghosts of characters who never fully materialize.

What it comes down to is that I wish this book hadn’t been about Lizzie Borden, which I know lands us in the dubious area of judging a book more for what it isn’t versus what it is. The thing is, Schmidt isn’t a bad writer, and if she hadn’t put the constraints of history around her storytelling and character development, I feel like this could have been the disquieting and macabre tale of step-matri/patri-cide for which she was aiming. ( )
  darsaster | May 24, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 68 (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 Dickinson
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
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For Cody.
And for Alan and Rose who left before I could finish.
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He was still bleeding.
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When her father and stepmother are found brutally murdered on a summer morning in 1892, Lizzie Borden - thirty-two years old and still living at home - immediately becomes a suspect. But after a notorious trial, she is found innocent, and no one is ever convicted of the crime. Meanwhile, others in the claustrophobic Borden household have their own motives and their own stories to tell: Lizzie's unmarried older sister, a put-upon Irish housemaid, and a boy hired by Lizzie's uncle to take care of a problem.

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