Despite this being the story of the famous Borden ax murders, at it’s heart it’s really the story of a terribly dysfunctional family. Sarah Schmidt’s novel paints a fabulously unsettling picture of the Borden family – a family ruled by a tyrannical, miserly patriarch, an addled stepmother, codependent and unstable sisters, and poor Bridget the maid, who sees everything but is powerless to intervene or escape.
Lizzie is an unreliable narrator (as is to be expected, I suppose) and the narration in the chapters told from her perspective is dizzying in it’s erratic and piecemeal presentation. Her thoughts jump around, concentrating heavily on sensation – what she felt, saw, heard, tasted – and she focuses on seemingly unimportant details (these details would prove to be important later, of course). I am delighted, however, to see that the other characters in the story are very well fleshed out and were what grounded the novel when Lizzie’s narration took a fantastical turn. Schmidt’s ability to write the characters in such a believable fashion serves to highlight just how unbalanced Lizzie was.
The gruesome nature of the crimes lends itself to a few death scenes in the novel which are handled in an understated but deeply unsettling way. The reactions of each character to the bodies are entirely in line with their characters. For those with squeamish stomachs, I advise avoiding food while reading. Also perhaps food after reading as well considering how food is also handled in the boo (the MUTTON STEW! <gag>).
This book is dark, haunting, unsettling, but also beautiful in it’s style. Schmidt’s expert combination of historical accuracy and creepy storytelling makes for a superb and fresh retelling of a well-known American murder.
(Thank you to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic Press for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)