ARC Review: The Secrets of Lizzie Borden

The Secrets of Lizzie BordenThe Secrets of Lizzie Borden by Brandy Purdy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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…

I’m one of the people who first heard about Lizzie Borden from the Christina Ricci movie that released in 2014, and the subsequent slasher TV series that came later. So, naturally I wanted to devour a novel version of famous murderer. Lizzie is always portrayed as a little off her rocker, and a momentary lapse in judgement that led her onto a path of blood. This story, while taking a few creative liberties, re-accounts her life as a type of autobiography. There were parts where I thought maybe this point was the part where she turned murderer or something, but overall it is rendered as a story of a woman who was oppressed so much, was habituated to resentment and hatred so much that picking up that axe feels like a act of freedom to her.

Now, neither the story nor I justify her actions – it is just presenting the story of a little girl brought up in a terrible house – a mother dying in front of her eyes at a young age, an older sister who shapes her thoughts against her stepmother, a father who cares more about his money than his family’s happiness (I must also add that he was straight-up crooked and slimy) – and even with a kind woman who tries to give her a good life, she grows up feeling unhappy and repressed. Moreover, her sexual desires are also imprisoned along with her material ones. She is caged in a life she hates, and when she thinks she is just going to exchange that prison for another, she snaps and commits the crime she is known for. I must point out that the author made the reasons for the two crimes very different – one of an innocent, and one out of hatred.

After the trial and her being ostracized from her society, she keeps searching for love. Lizzie is presented as bi/pansexual, and even though she finds love, it also keeps getting out of her grasp. In the end, she does lament that maybe her sins did not let her live a happy life, and that was a little heart-breaking. Sure, she got away with some really gruesome murders that were not even in self-defense or anything, but that girl had a really bad streak of luck when it came to love. Couple that with unresolved body image issues, and bullying from her father from a young age (parents, please never comment on your children’s appearance), it all is woven into tale of tragedy. The second half is particularly slow and unexciting, and by the end, it just got boring. I guess, anything resembling a biography is not really my thing, but I do applaud the good writing that kept my interest (somewhat) till the end.

Received a free galley from Kensington Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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