I finished this book with so many conflicting thoughts/emotions and most of them were unpleasant. First of all, I appreciate what Sarah Schmidt is trying to do—tell the story of Lizzie Borden and her whacks in such a way that you see (or more accurately feel) that the line between victimizer and victim is blurry and complicated. Schmidt is a strong writer and by telling the story of the famous murder from the point of view of four characters and in an overlapping but nonlinear way, she pulls you in and it’s hard to put this down. However, the experience is not pleasant—it made me feel both claustrophobic as I read and like I needed to take a long, hot shower with lots and lots of soap when I was done.
The novel opens with Lizzie discovering her father’s body, but the book shifts chapters as well as back and forth in time between narratives from Lizzie and her older sister, Emma, as well as from the maid, Bridget, and a psychotic stranger named Benjamin. There’s a weird sort of pairing created—with Lizzie and Benjamin, both clearly disturbed individuals, and Emma and Bridget, both trapped in a house they long to escape. The latter are clearly the characters we are supposed to identify with and their reasons for not being able to escape have everything to do with the power dynamics of gender and economics of the time. It’s also clear that Andrew Borden was not an innocent victim. Though he did not resort to using sharp implements to harm his daughters, his cruelty and control issues did quite a bit of damage. The four overlapping stories raise questions about who the murderer is (since everybody has a motive) but that ambiguity is mostly dispelled by the end of the book.
I’m left with the difficult question of whether I would recommend this book. Yes, but only if you are not easily creeped out. Again, I appreciate the artistry, but I can honestly say I don’t ever want to re-read it. I spent 319 pages with these characters and that’s more than enough. I wonder if that was what Schmidt was aiming for.
EDIT: So creepy that it made me mix up title and author on my review. 🙂