If You Could Have Only One Book on Fall River’s Lizzie Borden – This Would Be It.
Prepare yourself – – this book is justly warranted, as well as worthy, of such a lengthy review.
Exquisitely produced, brilliantly structured, thrilling and groundbreaking in its content, Parallel Lives – A Social History of Lizzie A. Borden and Her Fall River is a seven pound, 1,179 page, ten-years- in-the-making epic that had it been written as a historical novel it would be right up there with Roots, The Secret Magdelene, and Gone With The Wind. It is a book of transformation and revelation – transforming in the way it compels readers to alter their mental landscape when thinking of Lizzie Borden, and filled with stunning revelations that meticulously dissect rumors and legend long thought to be truth. It is so rich and full it would constitute several Master’s Thesis, multiple biographies, and even a few individually published books based on its title. Indeed, it is so spectacular in scope and content, all future authors who write of Lizzie Borden must incorporate information from Parallel Lives or find their work irrelevant.
The book is a treasure trove of new information about Lizzie taken from the journals, letters, cards, photographs, artifacts and remembrances of those that knew her personally, much of which was coveted by their owners who were resolved in their belief that Lizzie “could not have committed those crimes.” Their beliefs and tangible mementos were passed down to third and fourth generation descendents who continued to keep them sequestered and private until trusted relationships were established between them and the authors.
Masterfully woven within the new information are expanded stories of known individuals and events (some prominent, some little or previously unknown) that had an impact on Fall River’s history and society. The authors have beautifully crafted the world in which Lizzie Borden lived (from her birth in 1860 to her death in 1927). And while the crimes of August 4, 1892 are presented, allusions to or fresh insights on whether or not Lizzie was guilty are not presented. In fact, the murders and who did them become almost inconsequential to the broader tapestry presented throughout the chapters with its more than 500 photographs and other images, including 5 new images of Lizzie never seen before.
Mr. Martins and Mr. Binette have stated it was only when they explained the kind of book they were writing and, more importantly, after a solid basis of trust was established, that the possessions and remembrances were revealed. I strongly suspect much of what may have been was done so with soft-spoken caveats or perhaps some asserted caveats along the lines of:“Well, you may use these journals (or photos, or letters, or cards, or remembrances) but I trust you will present Auntie Borden (or Lizzie) in a good light because she never could have done those murders.”And/or:”I would consider it a great injustice to finally make this information known if it were used to give a poor impression of this wonderful woman or lend any credibility to the horrible reputation she endured during and after her life.”For decades, the curators of the FRHS have been meticulous in documenting the “drop in” visits or phone calls from people – many descendents of the principals – as to what they had to say and when. These “notes to file”, so to speak, have been preserved in their respective file folders and filed with the relative topics. These contain more of the “reveals”, some as surprising as finding out JR getting shot was only a dream, or Scarlett realizing she loved Rhett all along, or Edward glistening out of the cloud bank. As stated, the revelations are thrilling and transforming.
The authors were literary craftsmen in the way they told these stories, presenting the information from the journals or letters, and in detailing information about the people involved without trumpeting a new path but sufficient to give you pause. The book is peppered with phrases such as: “Is it possible that…”, or “Although we can never know for certain, could it be that…”, or “Would it seem likely that…” and we pause on the page and hearing ourselves utter “hmmmm” and suddenly realize we are thinking things differently.
The End Notes are extraordinary and I found them thrilling to read. When reading, one says: “Where did they get that from?” and we go to the End Notes which are flush with information. Our eyes don’t just stay on the sight bite but naturally scroll downward until we know where most all the information for that chapter came from. The End Notes tell us more about relationships and just who had what information and for how long. The End Notes help us identify what came from FRHS “notes to file” as opposed to who held on to what for decades and allows us to identify from where the bulk of new information came.
Lizzie Borden has long been encapsulated in pop culture based on an inaccurate quatrain characterizing her as a one dimensional psychopath wielding a bloody axe. Parallel Lives has irrevocably transformed and revealed Lizzie Borden to be a three dimensional flesh and blood human being with heart, spirit and soul. Indisputably, this is the new “go to” book which researches and scholars studying the history of Fall River during its rise and decline, as well as the woman herself, will discover impossible to find anything more definitive or comprehensive, more exciting or enlightening.
Parallel Lives is a monumental achievement and a body of work to make the entire Fall River Historical Society proud. It is representative of that level of excellence consistent in all endeavors of Messrs. Martins and Binette. It is truly a remarkable and unique work – the likes of which we shall not see again.