Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka
Published by William Morrow
Publication date: January 25, 2022
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Literary, Mystery
In twelve hours Ansel Packer will be executed. As the time unwinds, three women parse the life of a serial killer. Lavender is his mother, Hazel the twin sister of his wife, and Saffron the police captain involved in his capture. In Notes on an Execution their stories strip the filters from Ansel’s own Auto-tuned portrayal of himself and his life’s Theory, leaving behind nothing more than another man who kills women.
While they may have been called forth due to their link to Ansel what Execution does is bring these women front and center. Their stories bloom on the page. Lavender as the mother of an infant and a five-year-old, who left them behind on an isolated farm. Hazel, whose dreams were dashed while she was still a teenager, leaving her to fester in her sister Jenny’s shadow. And Saffron, going from an unprotected childhood in foster care to protecting and serving as a detective.
Only one timeline in Execution is absolute, the moment of Ansel’s death. Beyond that the chapters are fluid, marked by different years in each woman’s life. Each with its own layers of trauma, whether it’s the beaten down Lavender running away from a sadistic boyfriend, sending the police to the farm in the hopes it will save her boys’ lives. Or Saffy who tumbles into a wild child lifestyle after aging out of the foster system. A dead friend pushes her to the opposite side of the equation—judgement and justice. For each author Danya Kukafka trespasses into the darkest parts of intimacy, naming the dangerous needs and desires that sometimes lie beneath the surface of normal.
One of the most compelling elements in Execution is Ansel’s diminishment. The macabre mystique attached to the term “serial killer”, a label magnified in the media and in the minds of all of us who consume books, documentaries, and entire TV channels on the subject, is stripped of its almost mythic enhancement to its bare essence. A man who killed women. Period.
Through Lavender, Hazel, and Saffy Kukafka illustrates the same trauma, damage, pain, and darkness as Ansel, but with wholly different outcomes. The novel is no mystery, even if the truth is not immediately apparent. Rather, Notes on an Execution is a literary labyrinth, an exploration of paths and where we choose to go.
For more of Kukafka’s unique and engrossing narrative style I recommend Girl in Snow.
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