By Elizabeth L. Silver
Published on June 11th 2013
Published by Crown
Source: Blog Tour
Published by Crown
Source: Blog Tour
Have we ever talked on here about how much I love unreliable narrators? Because I do. I think it's a fascinating twist on what you know, or think you know, about a story's plot, when you find out that your narrator, who is supposed to be guiding you through the story, isn't giving you an accurate picture of events. The Execution of Noa P. Singleton doesn't just have an unreliable narrator; it's full of unreliable characters in general. Every last person in this story is hiding something, or lying, or just not telling the whole truth. It makes for an interesting reading experience as you slowly start to dig past the half-truths.Noa P. Singleton never spoke a word in her own defense throughout a brief trial that ended with a jury finding her guilty of first-degree murder. Ten years later, having accepted her fate, she sits on death row in a maximum-security penitentiary, just six months away from her execution date.
Seemingly out of the blue, she is visited by Marlene Dixon, a high-powered Philadelphia attorney who is also the mother of the woman Noa was imprisoned for killing. Marlene tells Noa that she has changed her mind about the death penalty and Noa’s sentence, and will do everything in her considerable power to convince the governor to commute the sentence to life in prison, in return for the one thing Noa is unwilling to trade: her story.
Marlene desperately wants Noa to reveal the events that led to her daughter’s death – events that Noa has never shared with a soul. With death looming, Marlene believes that Noa may finally give her the answers she needs, though Noa is far from convinced that Marlene deserves the salvation she alone can deliver. Inextricably linked by murder but with very different goals, Noa and Marlene wrestle with the sentences life itself can impose while they confront the best and worst of what makes us human in this haunting tale of love, anguish, and deception.
I had a hard time connecting with any of the characters, because they all just make so many stupid decisions that set a tragic series of events into motion. I wouldn't say that any of the characters in this book are likeable, but they are fascinating -- or at least, their motivations are. Noa is a murderer, and an unrepentant one at that. She never denies her crime and in fact has never bothered to defend herself or tell her side of the story. Marlene, the mother of the woman who Noa killed, is overbearing and manipulative and demanding, and while she says she doesn't want Noa to be executed, you can tell that her changed mind isn't entirely out of the goodness of her heart. Noa's mother was more interested in men and her "career" as an actress than in mothering her daughter. Her absentee father, who reappears through the course of the story, is a liar and a criminal and can't give a straight answer to save his life. Even Oliver, the attorney helping the uninterested Noa with her case, is hiding something.
I enjoyed reading Noa's account of her life -- the story is told part in present day, part in flashbacks, as Noa writes out her life's story for Oliver. She's still not interested in doing anything to save herself, but it seems like she knows she has to tell her story to someone. Her background is convoluted and sad, and you find yourself wondering a lot about Nature vs. Nurture (hands up, social sciences people, I know you're out there). Was Noa destined to become what she is? Could she have been saved, or was she always slated to become a murderer? Was she led into it because of her circumstances, because of poor parenting, because of poor decision making?
Elizabeth Silver's writing in this book is very interesting -- writing from Noa's perspective, she uses a lot of flowery language, metaphors that don't always make sense, repetition, etc. It made certain passages difficult to slog through, as you try to unpack what all of the grandiose statements meant, but it also seemed in tone with the kind of person Noa is: perhaps someone trying to hide behind her words, using them as a shield to deflect from the truths about what she's done in her life. This is Silver's first novel; I'd be interested to read future books from her to see if this is just her writing style, or if it was a tone taken up by her to best suit Noa.
One of my only bigger criticisms of this book is that I was left kind of cold and unsatisfied by the ending. I felt like there were so many loose ends that didn't get tied up. It's not a book that lends itself to a sequel, so the author clearly wasn't saving the missing pieces until later. The lack of concrete resolutions is appropriate -- this is a book about murder, and imprisonment, and guilt, and in real life cases like these, there often aren't concrete answers and hard truths to wrap everything up neatly -- but I wish I could have learned just a little bit more about the characters to fully understand them before the book ended.