Published: August 1st, 2017
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
“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.”
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!