See What I Have Done
By Sarah Schmidt
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
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.
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.
*I would like to thank Netgalley and Grove Atlantic for providing me with this copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.