See What I Have Done


Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done, 
She gave her father forty-one.

Summary

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.

Review

I really wanted to like this book. In the past, I’ve read biographies of Lizzie Borden and also the transcripts of her court hearing (which you can find here along with other primary source information) and I had hoped this book would lend a little humanity to the case and give some insight into who these people might have been. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with some of the assumptions made about Lizzie herself and found all the quirks assigned to the characters to be very distracting. I felt like the author implied Lizzie had a mental disorder akin to autism and, while I respect the author’s creative license, there was never any real indication that this was the case. I think it would have been more plausible to believe that she was abused in some way and that caused her to snap (particularly considering the violence of the murders and the way her father’s face was destroyed) or even that she was just greedy and sick of living under her father’s rule. I do think it was possible that she was coddled and perhaps behaved like a spoiled child due to the fact that Alice, the sibling that came between her and her sister Emma, passed away and then her mother died. Her sister Emma was 12 years her senior and these losses definitely could have caused her to spoil and baby her younger sibling.

I also thought the character of Uncle John was incomplete. There was a lot left unfinished about him. The nature of his implied relationship with Lizzie was very fuzzy. His intention in hiring Benjamin to kill Andrew Borden was also not terribly clear. If, as he indicated, it was for Lizzie’s sake, then why wouldn’t he have requested that Abby be killed as well? Further, if it was for access to the family fortune, he still would have needed Abby out of the picture because she would have inherited everything and certainly would not have any desire to share with him.

There were some small historical inaccuracies (which you probably wouldn’t notice if you didn’t know anything about Lizzie Borden) and the language sometimes fluctuates between period language and modern sounding language and ideals. Combined with the author’s predilection for describing the act of vomiting, needing to vomit, or cleaning up vomit, the multiple foul odors described in great detail, the strange tics attributed to the characters (licking blood off hands, sniffing things, eating sugar) and a strange popping noise described as coming from the ceiling referenced multiple times but never really explained, this book was just too disordered for me to enjoy.

I’m giving it 3 stars because the author definitely has a unique style of writing and if you don’t know anything about the history of the Lizzie Borden case, you might enjoy it for the sake of the book itself as a work of fiction.

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