Notes On An Execution by Danya Kukafka

Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

A friend warned me that I probably wouldn’t like Notes On An Execution, because a portion of it is written in the second person, putting the reader into the persona of the convicted murderer awaiting execution. (That is, it is told from the perspective of “you,” as in, “You are on death row.”) I guess I find it pretty easy to inhabit the mind of a serial killer, though, because the second-person narrative didn’t bother me at all.

The novel counts down the last few hours of the life of serial killer Ansel Packer, the “you” the reader is asked to become. Packer is a narcissist and sociopath, but it is impossible for the reader not to empathize at least with his desire to continue living. I think the author chose to use the second person specifically to evoke the reader’s compassion for a character who is objectively not at all empathetic. After all, one’s gut reaction to the statement “You are scheduled to die in 24 hours” is pretty much always going to be something along the lines of “I don’t want to die!”

The story of Packer’s last day is interspersed with chapters told from the perspectives of several women in his life: his mother, his sister-in-law, the detective who apprehends him. They all care about Packer–even love him at some point–and their relationships with this man profoundly affect each of their lives. This examination of the effects wrought on women close to a murderer–but not his victims–is something I can’t remember ever before reading in a novel. It is fascinating and thought-provoking.

One thing I don’t care for about Notes On An Execution is that it is categorized as a young adult novel. I’m not sure what the deciders were thinking when they gave it that designation, other than the fact that the violence is not graphic. I think it would appeal more to adult readers. But I’m the one who’s okay with being addressed as a serial killer, so my theories might be a tad suspect.

Available through the Bridges Library System

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