Those of us familiar with Lizzie’s story (or just with the rhyme) believe we know what happened next. Cherie Priest, though, looked at the variety of facts available, asked herself the writer’s favorite question (“What if…?”), and came up with an almost entirely different story.
Though father and (step-) mother still take their whacks.
The book opens in 1894, two years after the 1892 crime, and Elizabeth Andrew Borden and her sister Emma live in a large home named Maplecroft in Fall River, Massachussets. They’ve remained in the same town where their parents came to grief. Their nearest neighbor, but not too near, is Owen Seabury, M.D., physician and widower. He is also the only person in town liable to help Lizzy and Emma. Farther away, at Miskatonic University, is a professor named Phillip Zollicoffer.
Zolicoffer is at Miskatonic University. And Lizzie and Emma hunt monsters.
The book is told through these four characters’ perspectives: the two Bordens have some narrow idea what is happening in their small town and along the Eastern Seaboard. Lizzie has unthinkable and unspeakable things buried in her basement laboratory, and Emma researches their foes and the possibilities for fighting them — while corresponding with learned men (including Zolicoffer) at universities under the auspices of E.A. Jackson. Seabury stumbles into the mess that is their lives because he had some inkling something else was wrong with Mr. and Mrs. Borden before their deaths by Lizzie’s axe.
Those of you familiar with H.P. Lovecraft and other Lovecraftian tales will know already that there is a Chthuloid element to this novel. The story is grim and dark without being grimdark; there are moments of levity and moments of absolute horror and if I were a more fanciful reviewer I might tell you the book grabbed me by the throat with seaweed-clammy hands and refused to let go.
Or I might simply say I started reading early in the evening and kept reading until early in the morning.
I’m not strongly versed in Lovecraftian prose: before this, the only story of his I’d read was “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” And that because a friend positively insisted. And the only other book I’ve tried to read by Cherie Priest, Boneshaker, really wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m not normally a fan of horror novels, and I’m picky about my alternate history.
The writing is clean and consistent without the “paid by the word” feel I’m told is characteristic of Lovecraft. Characterization of not only the four point of view characters but also the supporting cast (including professors with whom Zolicoffer works, and Lizzie’s sometime lover Nance) is consistent and strong. It’s hard to say much more without giving away some things I’d rather let other readers discover for themselves.
I recommend Maplecroft to those who are intrigued by the variances in Lizzie’s story, or who like alternate history, horror, fantasy, or fiction with a little (or a whole lotta) weirdness around the edges.