Parallel Lives is 1,138 pages long. The book reveals much information that sheds light both on the Borden case and the environment in which it took place. The Amazon.com book description discusses its history of Fall River, observing, “Few recollect its once-glorious past when it was hailed as the Spindle City, largest producer of cotton cloth in the United States.” Zeroing in on the book’s portrait of Lizzie, the description states, “In researching this volume, the authors were permitted unprecedented access to myriad resources pertaining to Lizzie, held privately for generations. Drawing on this important, previously unpublished material, including rare letters and photographs, this book is a breakthrough as a dual history of Fall River and its most infamous citizen. . . . Now, for the first time, we meet her as a far more complex, complete individual whose personal life, albeit private, was one of grace and dignity.” Amazon has a book review by Stefani Koorey, editor and publisher of The Hatchet: A Journal of Lizzie Borden and Victorian Studies. Koorey writes, “Parallel Lives is about Lizzie Borden, and gives us not just a glimpse into her life, as other works have done, but gifts us with details – images, letters, reminiscences, diary notations, cards, notes, illustrations – more than all other books on the subject have done before combined. Those interested in her story will not be left wanting more, as this work is overflowing with new material and over 500 photographs; certainly enough for generations to debate and put into the contexts of their choosing.” Koorey was especially impressed with the view of Lizzie that emerges in Parallel Lives. “This Lizzie Borden, as told by the people who knew her, loved her, worked for her, and protected her, is soft, kind, considerate, loyal, generous, worldly, wise, polite and sentimental.”
However, Koorey may indeed be a biased source: she indexed Parallel Lives on the Fall River Historical Society’s website. She writes, “As the indexer for this work, I have been working on the project for some time, assisting the authors, curator Michael Martins, and assistant curator Dennis Binette, in proofreading the chapters as they have been completed, but before being typeset. After typesetting, I have been given the pages to index, marking them up with indexer’s shorthand, in a detailed pursuit for subjects, concepts, names and relationships. This has afforded me the enviable good fortune to know this book inside and out.” The Fall River Historical Society’s website notes that Parallel Lives “has been awarded an honorable mention for non-fiction in the New England Book Festival’s 2012 competition.” Fall River Historical Society President Jay Lambert elaborates, “Less than 5 percent of the books submitted to the competition are selected for an award, so this is a very significant achievement for Michael and Dennis.” Perhaps most pertinently, the website reports that the book included five previously unpublished photographs of Lizzie Borden in her later years including the only photograph known to have been taken at her Maplecroft home. It also boasts no less than 35 previously unpublished letters written by Lizzie Borden.
A note on the website states, “The book provides unprecedented insight into Lizzie’s world, into Her Fall River. No attempt is made to retell the story of the Borden murder case, but, rather, a picture is painted of the Fall River Lizzie knew. It was a city of sharp contrasts, where a privileged few, entrenched on ‘the Hill,’ lived their lives surrounded by the factories and laborers that were their lifeblood, with one unable to exist without the other. Fall River is brought to life: the people, the sounds, and the events that formed its history. Parallel Lives takes the reader back in time and provides a never-before-seen look at her life, and the environment in which she lived it.” In an interview with the writer, Binette relates, “Michael and I conceived the idea for Parallel Lives because we wanted to present Lizzie Borden’s story in the context of Fall River society. We both feel that the key to really understanding elements of that story is having a knowledge of what the city was like at the time – what the social structure was and where Lizzie fit or did not fit. We also wanted to present a sense of what the Fall River was that she would have known – the events, the joys, the tragedies, the sights, sounds, and even the smells.” Michael Martins told the writer that writing the book required meeting several major challenges. “Part of the challenge was presenting the material in the proper light,” Martins comments. “We didn’t want to be overly sympathetic to Lizzie but we also didn’t want to be biased the other way. We wanted to be objective and allow readers to draw their own conclusions. The amount of new material was very impressive so we had a challenge in deciding what to include and what not to include. A lot of decisions had to be made along the way. It was a challenge to present so much new material to our readers. We also had to protect the identities of some of the people who gave us this material because they did not want their identities known. We had to respect that.”