“Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks; and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one…”
But according to this new interpretation by Cherie Priest, she might have had good reason to.
The story of Lizzie Borden, axe murderess of the late 1800s who was acquitted of her parent’s grisly murder, is still told in playful rhymes and movie adaptations. Recently Netflix uploaded the 2014 film Lizzie Borden Took an Axe starring Christina Ricci. The story is firmly cemented in historical pop culture.
Maplecroft by Cherie Priest puts an extra sinister and supernatural twist on the true story. It most closely follows Lizzie, her older sister Emma, and the local Doctor Seabury two years after the famous murders. The writing carries the elevated, educated prose of well-to-do New Englanders of that time. The writing is lyrical and describes even the most gruesome scenes in neat, poetic terms. It’s not fluffy writing, but it delivers the story in a unique way.
Maplecroft could have been melodramatic, seeking to cash in on the famous name of Lizzie Borden. When faced with danger, Lizzie grabs her axe. “An axe?” I thought. “That’s an impractical weapon, especially given her murder trial.” But Cherie Priest made it work. Her axe is the best weapon against the horrifying monsters that attack the town of Fall River, Massachusetts. It might be a loosely hinged explanation, but there’s a connection between science and mythology; the dangerous effects of tetanus and the pure metal of iron. Read it, you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Maplecroft is told in diary format, switching between the most important characters to recall events in their point of view. The structure is lightly reminiscent of the style of Stephen King’s Carrie, but more chronological. I didn’t think I’d like the format. It’s so easy to pick a favorite character and then be forced to dredge through the boring characters’ chapters before getting back to the meat of the story. I didn’t find that problem here. Each character had their own unique but connected conflicts that kept everything interesting. I didn’t feel forced to slog through Dr. Seabury’s chapters when I’d rather see what Lizzie or Emma were up to.
The pace of the story is hard to define. It isn’t exactly a fast paced book for the most part. It is paced like a mystery, a slow boil that gives time for evidence and analysis, and shows us hints of what is to come in order to build tension.
The portrayal of the sisters is great. There is this subplot about gender dynamics that added a whole dimension to the characters. Lizzie proves she is more than capable of defending her home. Emma, sick and mostly stuck at home, writes scholarly articles under a male professor’s name to avoid gender discrimination. I really liked this detail, and it tied into the huge finale of the story well.
If you haven’t guessed it, I highly recommend Maplecroft. I haven’t read any other twisted-history books, like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but this one hit the mark for me.