My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Add a new name to the list of the greats, folks: Sarah Schmidt is up there with Joseph Pulitzer, Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe and all the other greats of New Journalism: Schmidt’s compelling version of the infamous Fall River axe murders in See What I Have Done has brought immersive journalism to the printed form.
Schmidt has a way of mixing delicious with foul, overwhelming my senses to the point where I held my breath, held my nose, covered my mouth, anything to stop the smells getting in:
I gave John his jacket from the cupboard, pushed the front door open nice and wide. There was fresh horse manure on the street, sweet hay mixed with boggy dirt and rotting fruit; a waft of the Quequechan River stretching across the city. I hated summer in Fall River, the death smells it brought.
Deliciously refreshing was that I never knew what Schmidt wanted me to think, who she thought may have committed the brutal crime, who was guilty and in what way. She constantly misled me, in much the same way the poor jurors must have been baffled.
Even the house: her early images put me in mind of cool, spacious, airy, light; but by the end it was vividly rotten, filthy, mildewy. Filled with the stink of unwashed bodies, stale urine, flakes of skin and nail clippings, food past its prime.
The conflict in her characters goes beyond simple guilt and innocence. The women all crave life. The men all crave control, destruction. All of them are selfish, self-centred, brimming with ulterior motives, yet too bound by their own sense of morality to enunciate their needs, desires, wants. None of them can be trusted.
The story makes me exceptionally grateful for my life, my times. For indoor plumbing, refrigeration, food quality and availability, for education, social awareness, greater equality, and crime scene control and investigation. For science in all its forms.
If you’ve ever read a book you loved so much you wanted to be inside it, live it, feel it: this is not it. But tough luck, because it will pull you in to an uncomfortable, narrow world, and make you understand motives and everyday compulsions like you never thought possible. And it’s not even particularly gory!
And of course, I can’t go past the cover art. If ever a picture painted a thousand words, it’s this one.
And I see what you have done with the font colours on the cover, Hachette: light on dark, dark on light, leaving ‘ha ha’ in the light font, like Lizzie opening the door to her father – or am I reading too much into it…