Monday 5 February 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

AMAZON UK £3.99 / £12.99
AMAZON US $9.10  / $26.00
AMAZON CA $18.41 / $37.50

True crime / mystery / family drama
19th century
Massachusetts/Boston area/USA

In See What I Have Done, debut author Schmidt explores crumbling family dynamics against the backdrop of one of the most infamous murders in American history.

On a blazing hot day in August, 1892, Andrew Borden and his wife Abby were murdered in a fit of spectacularly gruesome violence. What follows in Schmidt’s debut is an account that is by turns heart-wrenching, infuriating, and revolting as Schmidt takes readers through the final days leading up to the murders. She also gracefully weaves in flashbacks from each of the four point of view narrators - Lizzie, her sister Emma, the maid Bridget, and a fictional vagrant Benjamin. The varying points of view function to keep readers off balance, a clever counterpoint to the utterly unnerving language employed during Lizzie’s sections.

Schmidt is masterful at taking everyday actions or items and turning them into something disturbing when seen through Lizzie’s eyes, rarely leaving readers in doubt as to her culpability in the crime. Lizzie focuses unnaturally on the way things taste, smell, or sound, injecting the novel with a profound sense of unease. “Mrs. Borden’s hair used to taste like lavender. … But then her hair grew gray and began falling out into bowls of food. She never noticed how she ate a piece of herself each night” (91). “There was a pop in the middle of my ear. It crawled out and lunged at the walls of the house” (221). Her jumbled thoughts make it apparent that, in Schmidt’s iteration of events, she may have suffered from a mental illness in addition to victimization from her father and stepmother. Schmidt’s portrayal of Emma depicts an emotionally crippled and insecure woman that is truly heartbreaking, while Bridget is an innocent caught in the middle of a toxic family.

Unfortunately, Benjamin’s perspective drags the plot down a bit, and is ultimately irrelevant. Seeing Uncle John Moore’s point of view might have had a more powerful impact on the overall atmosphere of the novel.

Overall, though, this is a strong debut with surreal, uncomfortable prose.

© Kristen McQuinn

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