Interest in Lizzie Borden, tried and acquitted in the brutal 1892 murder of her father and stepmother, has never flagged; this fictional retelling depicts the unsolved crime from the perspective of the family’s live-in, Irish-immigrant maid, Bridget Sullivan.
Andrew Borden rules his household through tightfisted micromanagement and intimidation; his second wife, Abigail, passive and reclusive, communicates via written lists; Emma, Lizzie’s older sister, is seldom home. Lizzie, lonely, unstable, and combative, has attached herself to Bridget, following her when she leaves the house. Bridget’s grateful for her friendship and help with chores, but she finds Lizzie’s sleepwalking, spying, and screaming matches with her father deeply upsetting. Bridget’s fiance, Liam, wants her to quit, but she’s reluctant to leave a well-paid job. Lizzie reminds Bridget of her mentally disabled sister, Cara, for whose condition she feels responsible. While the portrait of the claustrophobic, creepy Borden household and its denizens, Lizzie especially, is grippingly vivid, Bridget herself is problematic. As a domestic, she’s less than credible. Her contemporary vocabulary full of breezy colloquialisms (“I didn’t buy it” (expressing skepticism); “you owe me”; “I’d stashed it”) bears little resemblance to the real Bridget’s plain speech (well-documented in trial transcripts). Lizzie holds the power in this unequal relationship; her inconsistent, abusive treatment renders Bridget’s tolerant affection puzzling and its rationale weak.
Read it for the suspenseful plot, but look elsewhere for the facts. (Historical fiction. 13-17)