Summary and book reviews of See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

See What I Have Done

by Sarah Schmidt

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
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  • Published:
    Aug 2017, 324 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Book Summary

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.

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

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.

EMMA

August 4, 1892

SECOND STREET WAS thick with skin. I slowed out of the horse and carriage, glanced at the swarm of onlookers at the front of the house, their strange-looking faces. My shoulder ached and I combed fingertips over knotted muscle. I was home. A few people in the crowd placed hands across their chests as I walked by and I recognized faces: Mr. Porter, the young carriage driver whose son always had a runny nose; Mrs. Whittaker, her cabbage cheeks ballooned in talk; little Frances Gilbert, Lizzie's least-favorite Sunday school pupil, scratching up her wild hair, her squirrel eyes gazing at the house. I tried to make eye contact. Somewhere a voice: "I wonder if she knows?" News traveled fast: what kind of accident exactly?

I looked at the sky, cloud shadows over my face, noticed a bird center itself on top of the roof. I blinked and everything became quiet. The house looked so ordinary and I kept thinking over and over "Abby missing." How was it possible a woman ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The novel opens with an excerpt from a poem by Emily Dickinson: "We outgrow love like other things / And put it in a drawer." Do you agree with this idea? Why, or why not? How does it help to shape the story? Why do Schmidt's characters outgrow love, and how do they handle that loss?
  2. We're first introduced to Lizzie with an excerpt from her real-life inquest testimony. Talk about what this immediately reveals about Lizzie, and how this sets the tone for the novel that follows.
  3. The book's central mystery is based on an actual murder. Were you familiar with the crime? If not, did you stop at some point and research the case? Discuss whether your reading of the novel was affected by knowing that it was inspired by a true ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

Full Review (630 words).

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Media Reviews

Entertainment Weekly, one of the 23 Most Anticipated Books of 2017

Schmidt delves into the Lizzie Borden story, which may or may not have unfolded as we've always thought.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [An] unforgettable debut ... Equally compelling as a whodunit, 'whydunit,' and historical novel.

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.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. 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.

The Guardian (UK)

[A] gory and gripping debut.

Author Blurb Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train
Eerie and compelling, Sarah Schmidt breathes such life into the terrible, twisted tale of Lizzie Borden and her family, she makes it impossible to look away.

Author Blurb Sabina Murray, author of Valiant Gentlemen
Sarah Schmidt's beautifully wrought See What I Have Done is a compelling, psychologically rich take on a well-loved tale, bringing new insight into the myth of just who Lizzie Borden was. This glorious gothic novel brings to mind the work of Sarah Waters and Patrick McGrath.

Author Blurb Dominic Smith, author of the New York Times bestseller The Last Painting of Sara de Vos
This is a powerful, beautifully researched debut novel that brings us into contact with the recurring American dramas of violence and retribution while summoning the beguiling voices of the past.

Reader Reviews

Davida Chazan

The clock on the mantle ticked ticked
Although a jury of her peers found Lizzie Borden not guilty of the murders of her father and stepmother, Andrew and Abby Borden, the court of public opinion found her guilty as charged. The mystery behind these brutal murders continues to this day, ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Domestic Workers in the US

Bridget, the Borden family's Irish maid in See What I Have Done, is a young woman who came to the United States with visions of making a decent living and maybe one day getting married. Sadly, young immigrant women with limited skills and education were more often than not put to work as domestic help. Sadder still, with no union or legislative champion to protect them from abuse and overwork, these women were often mistreated by their employers.

The Chocolate GirlMaids, nannies and housekeepers have a long, disheartening history that doesn't show signs of too much improvement. Once upon a time, even families of limited means, such as those portrayed in mid-18th century novels of Wharton, Alcott and Dickens, had domestic help. They would just as...

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