While I enjoyed the characters and the overall purpose of the novel, See What I Have Done, an atypical murder mystery, the same elements I liked, ended up obscuring my general enjoyment by the end.
In August 1892 a brutal ax murder shocks the entire town of Fall River, Massachusetts. Lack of evidence and general small town curiosity result in a variety of theories as to who the culprit may be. Who would have wanted to kill the beloved couple? However, those directly surrounding this marital pair, those who lived in the house, have different stories to tell. They tell of cruel comments, the clipping of wings, and a vindictive rage. By focusing on these varying perspectives of those who resided in the house of ghosts, only then do we have a chance of seeing a glimpse of the truth.
I absolutely love the cover art for this book, both versions I have seen (the pear and the pigeon). It perfectly encapsulates the point and nuance of the story. Therefore, I am going to use the cover as a way to talk about the two things I liked about this book: the characters, and the purpose of the novel.
This is not a gory recreation of the crimes, it is a story that delves into the memories of those involved with the crime. (While there is not a great deal of gore, there is an extreme amount of sensory descriptions, smell and feel, that could cause a stomach to turn over). While there could have been a picture of an axe, or splatters of blood, instead it chooses to be understated and to have a sinister feeling to it once you’ve read it. This book does not thrive on the details of the court case or even of the murder itself, instead placing emphasis on the events that came before and afterwards. The manipulation of time and memories throughout the novel is done in a way that subtly juxtaposes these experiences and ghosts.
Instead of an axe that puts the focus of the book squarely on the crime, the covers are of a pear and a pigeon. By taking the focus away from the actual murder, Schmidt instead explores the characters: Lizzie, Emma, Benjamin, and Bridget. Without giving us any answers, or culprits, Schmidt instead highlights the struggles, strife, and desires of all of them. By giving them history, in our own way, we can identify them as suspects, never knowing if that one slight, that represented the release of the dam, could be responsible for the murder of Mr. and Mrs. Borden.
One of the most disturbing narratives, to me, was Lizzie. There is a childish immaturity within her personality that is coupled with a morbid curiosity. Being able to peer within her thoughts makes me realize why she would be the prime suspect, but Schmidt does not allow us to walk away with easy answers. Instead Schmidt focuses on other ‘suspects’, allowing us to witness that day from various angles.
However, hidden beneath what I enjoyed in the novel, is what mainly hindered my enjoyment. While I appreciated the memories behind each character, at the same time I felt like I was lost within a sea of pasts and ghosts. Reading through the book made some moments drag and the frequent interspersion of these moments made me reread the passages, to witness that events of the present.
The detailed setting and history of each character, served as both a positive and negative, obscuring the view of the day for its readers. That being said, the level of intrigue generated by the memories and Schmidt’s careful ability to point the spotlight of blame on each, is one of the highlights of the book.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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