Books like this are why I love literary fiction. I finished Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka over the weekend, and I still cannot stop thinking about it. What is it about serial killers and true crime that is so fascinating to us? Why do the Ted Bundy's of the world have fan followings? The complexity of human nature, between good and bad, was fascinating. Kukafka's writing is lyrical, atmospheric, thought provoking and exactly what I love about literary fiction.
Ansel Packer is scheduled for execution in twelve hours. He knows what he's done, but he does not want to die. He wants to be understood, not judged for the bad decisions of his life. Told from the perspective of the women in Ansel's life, it is an examination of good and evil.
One thing that surprised me was how my own feelings of empathy for certain characters morphed throughout the book. Each chapter is told from a different character's perspective, as well as multiple timelines. We learn that Ansel is hours away from his execution and the story then shifts to his mother, Lavender's, perspective. My feelings were all over the board for Lavender, but it is evident that a traumatic event that happens to Ansel when he is a little boy is what sets him on a dark trajectory.
Not only do we hear from Ansel's mother, but we learn more about his life from the perspective of his wife's twin sister, Hazel, whose life has been forever impacted by Ansel's choices. We also meet Saffy, a female detective in an office full of chauvinistic men who has been hot on his trail for years. I loved how the story is told from the perspective of the women who have been greatly affected by Ansel. While, Ansel's countdown to his execution is prevalent in the book, the story focused on the victims he left in his wake. The story felt like an onion, with layer after layer to peel and uncover something new.
Lastly, the examination of the prison system and death penalty was beyond fascinating. Kukafka was able to bring up multiple perspectives and points, without it coming off too political or biased. I loved it and it really had me thinking about where I stand on these issues. On one hand, there is the eye for an eye theory, but does that truly bring the victim and their family justice? But does justice also look like their loved one's murderer alive and well in some state prison? I honestly do not know the answer, but man, did this book get me thinking.
Notes on an Execution is dark, gripping and tragic. This is a story where no one wins. No one gets their happily ever after. It felt like a trainwreck, I could not look away. A quote from the book Just Mercy kept coming to my mind, "Each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done."
.....but what if the worst thing you have done is taken someone's life?
“No one is all bad. No one is all good. We live as equals in the murky gray between.”
“...and she thought how sad it was that a single bad thing could turn you into a story, a matter to be whispered about. Tragedy was undiscerning and totally unfair.”
"Men like Lawson, who believed their very existences afforded them lawlessness. Men who had been handed the world, trashed it, and still demanded more."