cover image See What I Have Done

See What I Have Done

Sarah Schmidt. Atlantic, $25 (336p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2659-7

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. (Aug.)