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Book Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Reviewed by Krista McKeeth

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

In See What I Have Done, author Sarah Schmidt puts the reader right inside of the Borden house on the day of the murders – the famous 1892 case in which Lizzie Borden was accused of murdering her father and her step mother with an axe. This version not only allows us to view the story from the inside but from different perspectives of those closest to the case.

The story unfolds through the viewpoints of Lizzie, her sister Emma, the maid Bridget and one outsider, Ben. Although in the beginning I was confused about how Ben’s character would fit into the story, I found that he plays a huge part in how the author has chosen to wrap up the story and what happened after the murders. What I absolutely loved about this story is that, besides Emma, the other characters are all presented as possible killers and very unreliable narrators who have their own reasons to want the Borden’s dead. What a hostile environment the household was to live in!

Lizzie herself is full of zest! She is dramatic, haughty and cunning – the type of person you will love to hate. She was absolutely my favourite character with Bridget coming in a very close second because of her views of how the Borden’s ran their household and the kind of messes she was always left to clean up. Then there was Emma the oldest and put-upon daughter who only wants to find a love of her own and a life outside the home.

I really enjoyed the pacing of the story and how well the characters were adapted. They all had their own very true voices that played well in this engrossing story line of those fateful hours leading up to the murders. I was very entertained the whole time and found it a joy to jump into this secretive setting of the Borden household.