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See What I Have Done
Cover of See What I Have Done
See What I Have Done
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
"One of America's most notorious murder cases inspires this feverish debut" novel that goes inside the mind of Lizzie Borden (The Guardian).

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. In this riveting debut novel, Sarah Schmidt reimagines the day of the infamous murders as an intimate story of a family devoid of love.

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 desperate for their independence. As the police search for clues, Lizzie's 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.
"One of America's most notorious murder cases inspires this feverish debut" novel that goes inside the mind of Lizzie Borden (The Guardian).

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. In this riveting debut novel, Sarah Schmidt reimagines the day of the infamous murders as an intimate story of a family devoid of love.

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 desperate for their independence. As the police search for clues, Lizzie's 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.
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Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from May 8, 2017
    Schmidt’s unforgettable debut brings a legendary American crime to eerie new life. Four narrators recount events surrounding the 1892 murders of Andrew and Abby Borden: Lizzie Borden; her older sister, Emma; and the family’s maid, Bridget Sullivan, are within the Massachusetts home in which the deaths occurred. The fourth, a young man known only as Benjamin, is a stranger to everyone in the family but the sisters’ maternal uncle, who is visiting at the time of the tragedy. Though their interpretations of events differ, all describe roiling tensions. The manipulative, nearly feral Lizzie is forever scarred by her mother’s early death, while Emma longs for an artistic life uncomplicated by her sister’s outsized presence. Their relationship with their father and stepmother is fractured: Andrew Borden is a miserly, abusive man who thinks nothing of beheading the pet pigeons Lizzie loves, and his second wife, Abby, has never gained her stepdaughters’ trust. On August 4, family conflicts erupt in a chain of events that is as intricate as it is violent. Equally compelling as a whodunit, “whydunit,” and historical novel, the book honors known facts yet fearlessly claims its own striking vision. Even before the murders, the Bordens’ cruel, claustrophobic lives are not easy to visit, but from them Schmidt has crafted a profoundly vivid and convincing fictional world. Agent: Dan Lazar, Writers House.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from June 1, 2017
    A fictional reimagining of real-life murders so infamous they earned its alleged perpetrator her own playground rhyme and ax-wielders everywhere a catchy chopping song, even if the killer's guilt was never firmly established.On Aug. 4, 1892, in Fall River, Massachusetts, Andrew Borden and his second wife, Abby, were found butchered in their home, the weapon thought to be an ax, though police never found it. In a dazzling debut novel that is as unsettling as the summer heat that permeates the crime scene, Schmidt alternates the first-person narration among sisters Lizzie and Emma Borden; Bridget, the family's maid; and a mysterious man named Benjamin, whose role doesn't come into focus so much as congeal like drying blood. Tempestuous Lizzie still lives at home with her father and stepmother, whom she calls "Mrs. Borden"; their relationship is strained at best. Older sister Emma, much to Lizzie's dismay, has left Fall River to stay with a friend for a while; the symbiotic relationship between the sisters and their teetering feelings of intense love and loathing fuel much of the novel's emotional fire. Bridget, who sees everything and is seething that Mrs. Borden recently confiscated her savings, is eager to get out of the house--and Schmidt creates such a palpable sense of unease that the reader is, too. Benjamin, a passing acquaintance of the girls' uncle, burns with rage; Schmidt is careful not to lay blame for the murders directly at his feet, though his presence is vital. It's a gamble to focus almost entirely on the day leading up to the murders and the actual day of the crime rather than widening the scope to include Lizzie's well-known trial and eventual acquittal, but it's one that pays off for Schmidt, creating an unusually intimate portrait. There are books about murder and there are books about imploding families; this is the rare novel that seamlessly weaves the two together, asking as many questions as it answers.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from May 1, 2017

    DEBUT In this novel from Australian newcomer Schmidt, we are taken inside the delusional mind of accused 19th-century ax murderer Lizzie Borden and also witness the churning interior monologs of her older sister, Emma, and the Bordens' hapless Irish maid, Bridget. We get to inhabit another character as well: a potential hit man named Benjamin, lured in by the sisters' nefarious Uncle John. Schmidt employs some unusual word choices--animals "critter" instead of walk, lamplight "rages." Not surprisingly, the prose is rife with a creepy physicality, its imagery dwelling on skin, blood, fingernails, smells, etc., although readers are spared much of the actual crime's gruesomeness. The heated narrative contributes to the sense of simmering craziness permeating the Borden household. A historical time line of actual events is appended. What better subject for a psychological thriller than one of the most notorious murders in U.S. history, and the mysterious Benjamin adds color and suspense to what might otherwise be a well-worn tale. VERDICT A fresh treatment of Lizzie Borden, highly recommended for mystery and true crime fans and others who like smart, edgy works.--Reba Leiding, emeritus, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    March 15, 2017

    On the 125th anniversary of the Lizzie Borden murders, Australian librarian Schmidt's retelling depicts an abusive household that includes a violent father, a mean-spirited stepmother, and two spinster sisters who want out. But was Lizzie responsible for all those whacks with an ax? Film rights sold; one of the Bookseller's 12 hot books for 2017.

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    May 1, 2017

    DEBUT In this novel from Australian newcomer Schmidt, we are taken inside the delusional mind of accused 19th-century ax murderer Lizzie Borden and also witness the churning interior monologs of her older sister, Emma, and the Bordens' hapless Irish maid, Bridget. We get to inhabit another character as well: a potential hit man named Benjamin, lured in by the sisters' nefarious Uncle John. Schmidt employs some unusual word choices--animals "critter" instead of walk, lamplight "rages." Not surprisingly, the prose is rife with a creepy physicality, its imagery dwelling on skin, blood, fingernails, smells, etc., although readers are spared much of the actual crime's gruesomeness. The heated narrative contributes to the sense of simmering craziness permeating the Borden household. A historical time line of actual events is appended. What better subject for a psychological thriller than one of the most notorious murders in U.S. history, and the mysterious Benjamin adds color and suspense to what might otherwise be a well-worn tale. VERDICT A fresh treatment of Lizzie Borden, highly recommended for mystery and true crime fans and others who like smart, edgy works.--Reba Leiding, emeritus, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Elle, one of 24 Best Books To Read This Summer "Debut novelist Sarah Schmidt tackles the murk and silence in this old tale, imagining the cruel secrets of a respected family."
  • Entertainment Weekly, one of Summer's 20 Must-Read Books "[The] novel is compelling, scary--and gruesomely visceral."
  • USA Today "A bloody good read . . . A taut, lyrical account of the destruction of the Borden family, both through ax murder and subtler means . . . Schmidt inhabits each of her narrators with great skill, channeling their anxieties, their viciousness, with what comes across as (frighteningly) intuitive ease. Everything about Schmidt's novel is hauntingly, beautifully off. It's a creepy and penetrating work, even for a book about Lizzie Borden."
  • Redbook, one of the Best Summer Reads "This palpable imagining of what led to the murder of Lizzie Borden's parents will stay with you for as long as this historical mystery has enthralled pop culture."
  • Wall Street Journal "A gripping and still puzzling story . . . a credible imagining of a bizarre episode."
  • BookPage, Six of the Brightest New Names in Fiction "This fictional retelling of the Lizzie Borden murders is a domestic nightmare . . . [with] staggeringly gorgeous, feverish prose and the thrill of deep, dark, gruesome detail."
  • Washington Independent Review of Books "[A] moody, atmospheric tale . . . Superb."
  • Book Browse "Riveting . . . See What I Have Done is a stay-up-late novel for crime and psychological suspense fans. The profiles feel spot on. The drama is intense. The fetid atmosphere of over-ripening fruit, summer heat and festering emotional wounds is not for sissies. But brace up and dive in."
  • Tampa Bay Times "A terrifically dread-inducing, claustrophobic, nightmarish immersion in a fictional version of one of the most famous crimes in American history . . . a tense psychological study of family dysfunction, painted with a vividness bordering on the hallucinogenic . . . A gripping and accomplished novel."
  • Portland Press Herald "Schmidt makes a case in See What I Have Done that feels truthful in its emotional intensity . . . [and] sheds a different light on what once seemed an open-and-shut case."
  • Forward Reviews (starred review) "See What I Have Done enters the murder house before and after that fateful August day and, with quiet intensity, creates a memorable place of horror."
  • Entertainment Weekly "[A] sensual new novel . . A prickly, unsettling wonder: a story so tactile and feverishly surreal it feels like a sort of reverse haunting."
  • Refinery 29, Best Beach Reads of the Year "Schmidt brings to life one of the most unexpected and fascinating crimes in American History."
  • Marie Claire "A complicated, compelling tale . . . giving fresh life to a sensational crime of old."
  • New York Post, 29 Best Books of the Summer "Schmidt's debut novel reimagines the crime and tells the story of a family in chaos."
  • Publishers Weekly (starred review) "[An] unforgettable debut . . . Equally compelling as a whodunit, 'whydunit,' and historical novel."
  • Kirkus Reviews (starred review) "A dazzling debut novel that is as unsettling as the summer heat that permeates the crime scene . . . an unusually intimate portrait. There are books about murder and there are books about imploding families; this is the rare novel that seamlessly weaves the two together, asking as many questions as it answers."
  • Booklist (starred review) "Heralds the arrival of a major new talent . . . Nail-biting horror mixes with a quiet, unforgettable power to create a novel readers will stay up all night finishing."
  • Library Journal (starred review) "What better subject for a psychological thriller than one of the most notorious murders in U.S. history . . . A fresh treatment of Lizzie Borden."
  • Guardian "[A] gory and gripping debut."
  • Telegraph "Lizzie Borden might be the archetypal transgressive female, and Sarah Schmidt has taken the 81 whacks and the parents that were dealt them and spun a mesmerising reimagining of it all . . . Schmidt writes with precision and flair about the oppressive boredom of domesticity, the twisted intensity of sisterly love and the forlorn dreams of leaving and of personal reinvention . . . A glittering, gory fever dream of a book, See What I Have Done is a remarkable debut."
  • Book Riot "This novel is like a crazy murdery fever dream, swirling around the day of the murders. Schmidt has written not just a tale of a crime, but a novel of the senses. There is hardly a sentence that...
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