January 26, 2016
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In her enthralling, richly imagined new novel, Brandy Purdy, author of The Ripper’s Wife, creates a compelling portrait of the real, complex woman behind an unthinkable crime. Lizzie Borden should be one of the most fortunate young women in Fall River, Massachusetts. Her wealthy father could easily afford to provide his daughters with fashionable clothes, travel, and a rich, cultured life. Instead, haunted by the ghost of childhood poverty, he forces Lizzie and her sister, Emma, to live frugally, denying them the simplest modern conveniences. Suitors and socializing are discouraged, as her father views all gentleman callers as fortune hunters. Lonely and deeply unhappy, Lizzie stifles her frustration, dreaming of the freedom that will come with her eventual inheritance. But soon, even that chance of future independence seems about to be ripped away. And on a stifling August day in 1892, Lizzie’s long-simmering anger finally explodes… Vividly written and thought-provoking, The Secrets of Lizzie Borden explores the fascinating events behind a crime that continues to grip the public imagination—a story of how thwarted desires and desperate rage could turn a dutiful daughter into a notorious killer.
I think I went into The Secrets of Lizzie Borden expecting something other than what it ended up being. I love historical fiction that gives us a more personal look at women that we know all about without really knowing (for example). The closer to fact, the better.
Perhaps that was where I ran into trouble with Secrets. Brandy Purdy does a very nice job imagining Lizzie Borden's life - from her very early years, through to 1892 and then through the rest of her life. It all seems like it could be real, from how it fits together, how its written. Only, I read a nonfiction Lizzie Borden book right after Secrets and a lot of this novel seems to be untrue. (Including several of these that are in the book.)
Aside from the truth versus fiction question, though, The Secrets of Lizzie Borden was too focused on Lizzie's sexuality for me. Especially given the time period, the lead-up to the murders presents an entirely plausible motivation. It was the way the actual murders - along with specifically 'why' - felt almost like an afterthought, sort of the also ran event of the book, that disappointed me.
There was the a broader why in the Lizzie we get to know prior to the murders and then there is a great look at how the murders, the trial and the publicity, or, really, the notoriety impact the rest of Lizzie's life. I wanted the section of the book immediately before and after the murders to be stronger.
The first person narration, does, at times, make Lizzie a sympathetic character. It is easy to see where she feels maligned or misunderstood or where she isn't exactly as her father and society wish her to be. There are also times when you just do not like her.
Whether it fits with history or not, I thought Lizzie's character was interesting. Particularly that she was so accepting of a woman's role and the expectations of young girls and women. After readign books like These Shallow Graves it was an interesting change of pace.
I think of The Secrets of Lizzie Borden as the more salacious examination of Lizzie Borden and her life. It was not quite the book I was looking for, but is historical fiction on a compelling subject who, more than a century on, still captivates us. It is easy to read The Secrets of Lizzie Borden and imagine that is who Lizzie Borden was and how her life took place.
digital copy received, for review, thanks to publisher, via NetGalley