A work of literary suspense that deconstructs the story of a serial killer on death row, told primarily through the eyes of the women in his life.
Ansel Packer is scheduled to die in twelve hours. He knows what he’s done, and now awaits execution, the same chilling fate he forced on those girls, years ago. But Ansel doesn’t want to die; he wants to be celebrated, understood. He hoped it wouldn’t end like this, not for him.
Through a kaleidoscope of women—a mother, a sister, a homicide detective—we learn the story of Ansel’s life. We meet his mother, Lavender, a seventeen-year-old girl pushed to desperation; Hazel, twin sister to Ansel’s wife, inseparable since birth, forced to watch helplessly as her sister’s relationship threatens to devour them all; and finally, Saffy, the homicide detective hot on his trail, who has devoted herself to bringing bad men to justice but struggles to see her own life clearly. As the clock ticks down, these three women sift through the choices that culminate in tragedy, exploring the rippling fissures that such destruction inevitably leaves in its wake.Goodreads Synopsis
Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka is one of the most impactful books that I have ever read. Kukafka’s writing introduces a poetic and unique voice in literature that instantly grips the reader. I still think about the characters that Kukafka introduced me to, and I know that this is one novel that I will be re-reading many a time.
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As an avid reader, I have found that I rarely find books that can shake me to the core anymore. So many books feel like they are just variations of similar storylines, and it becomes tiresome. When Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka was recommended to me, I expected it to be an interesting story about a serial killer – but it became so much more than that. It was a beautiful examination of the impact of violent men on the women in their lives, and it shredded me to the core. Serial killers have long been a fascination in popular culture, but Notes on an Execution turns that fascination on its head and gives voices to the women who are so often silenced.
Ansel is awaiting execution, and his chapters are told in the second person. This fresh take puts the reader in his shoes, almost as though they can experience what Ansel is experiencing firsthand. While this could be used as a tactic for the reader to empathize with Ansel, it does the complete opposite. Putting the reader in Ansel’s shoes reveals how narcissistic he is, and how he views those around him (particularly women and animals) as lesser and worthy of manipulation and abuse. Between Ansel’s chapters, there are chapters that focus on three different women who are paramount in his life – his mother, his wife’s sister, and the detective who was on his tail for years (and who also happened to share a foster home with him when they were children). Each chapter reveals the impact that Ansel’s actions had on others, and how all of their lives have been ultimately changed.
Kukafka’s prose is some of the best that I have ever read. She uses a lot of metaphors, which can become tiresome for some readers, but I found them to be extremely poetic and heart wrenching. I did have to read certain passages over again to fully grasp them due to the level of intensity and depth that Kukafka’s uses, but this only made me feel closer to the women in Ansel’s life. For such a short novel, Notes on an Execution is filled to the brim with pain, loss, beauty, and most of all, strength – despite the violence that many of us endure in our lives.
I can’t remember the last time I read a novel where I was scared to finish is too quickly, because I didn’t want it to end. Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka had me snared from the first chapter, and I still think about the beauty of the story on a daily basis. This is one novel that wormed its way into my soul, and I can only say that about maybe two other books. Please, drop what you are doing right now, and pick this book up. Whether you like the style of writing or not, I guarantee that the story will leave a lasting impression on you.
Content Warnings: Animal abuse, emotional abuse, domestic abuse, substance abuse
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