Published by Atlantic Monthly Press
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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.
This post includes spoilers for See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
As soon as I finished See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt I thought of a quote by Dr. Seuss.
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss
I thought, “No Dr., in this case, I’m crying because it’s over and I’m crying tears of joy!”. If you follow me on social media then you probably know how much I have struggled with this book since I started reading it three weeks ago. I wanted to like it.; truly I did. When I first picked it up, I wanted to read it then rave about it on social media and my blog. But, I’ll be damned if this book didn’t bore me to sleep almost every single night. I came up with excuses for it and claimed I was simply too tired to read. That was fine at first but when it happened night after night after night I had to admit it wasn’t me, it was the book.
Sarah Schmidt is an amazing writer, no doubt about it. Her descriptions are intense and when the occasion was right, they were stomach-churning. Everything from the crime scene to the weird family relationships had just the right amount of ick factor. It was enough to make me cringe but not enough to turn me away. The horrible awkwardness was perfect but the story didn’t go anywhere. I kept hoping for the plot to be as good as the descriptive setting but it never did.
Every chapter in See What I Have Done is written from a different POV. We have Lizzie, Emma (the sister), Bridget (the maid), and Benjamin (Uncle John’s hired…assassin?). It was really disjointed as we hop from character to character. Sometimes the book retells the same scene from a different POV and sometimes it’s a completely different moment. There was never really any clarity into who Benjamin was and what Uncle John wanted him to do. I mean, was he hired to kill Mr. Borden? Was he just supposed to scare him? Was he an assassin? I mean, what was his deal?!
The whole time I was reading this book I wanted Schmidt to take a stand. This is supposed to be a work of fiction yet it felt like she just regurgitated facts and filled in random details without ever giving us a complete story. *SPOILER* There is no ending. She takes no stand. We have no idea who this tale claims killed Mr. and Mrs. Borden. Maybe that was my problem with this book. I wanted a conclusion and I wanted Schmidt to take a stand with her opinion on what happened. Whether she went with Lizzie being the murderer or she opted to pursue the theories that Bridget (the maid) or Benjamin (the intruder) killed them, didn’t matter. I wanted to see her do historical research, come to her own conclusion, and give her readers a complete journey as she imagined it happening. Instead, we got a half-told story from 4 perspectives that ultimately led nowhere.
Then again, what do I know? Other people loved it and you can check out their reviews on Amazon.
Have you read this book yet? It’s getting a lot of praise! Talk books by tweeting me @ashleyfromhp or you can leave your thoughts in the comments below.