Monday, January 11, 2016

The Secrets of Lizzie Borden by Brandy Purdy

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: December 15, 2015

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.

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Lizzie Borden
I feel like the only reviewer who didn't love Brandy Purdy's The Secrets of Lizzie Borden. Most of my peers have offered up glowing commentary that is chock full of unadulterated praise, but my own reflections are decidedly more moderate. As usual I found Purdy's subject matter quite interesting, but the execution fell short and while I'd certainly recommend the book, I can't claim it a personal favorite.

Those who aren't familiar with the facts will relish the research that went into the construction of this piece. I don't agree with Purdy's characterization of Emma and I think some of the subplots rather tenuous, but artistic license aside, I think Purdy did a nice job adapting fact to fiction.

In terms of structure, I feel the color and rhythm of Lizzie's life after the murders allowed Purdy a lot more freedom as a writer. The first half is meatier and more intriguing, but the facts limited Purdy to particular places and events and at the end of the day I don't feel Fall River read as well as the Moulin Rouge.

Purdy's effort to tell Lizzie's side of the story is inspired, but I feel it pales in comparison to the darker interpretations of the infamous double murder. The sad reality is that the more heavily fictionalized versions hold more entertainment value for me. Much as I admire what Purdy aimed to illustrate within these pages, I can't help feeling disappointed that The Secrets of Lizzie Borden failed to send chills down my spine and/or capitalize on the raw horror of the folklore on which it is based.

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 And on the table, now clean and sparkling, lay “the Great Emancipator,” the hatchet that would either be my avenging angel and set me free or be the demon that would damn me to Hell for all eternity.
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