I read Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka months (months!) ago and absolutely loved it, to the point that I felt too overwhelmed to write a review for it at the time. So, I’ve now sabotaged myself because I don’t remember the book as well as I would like to, so I will likely be unable to do justice to this book that I found incredibly smart and moving.
Notes on an Execution tells the story of a serial killer largely through the eyes of the women in his life: his mother, the investigator hunting him, the sister of one of his victims. In the meantime, some chapters move the perspective to the serial killer himself, counting down the final hours before his execution by lethal injection. To steal from the Goodreads description: “Blending breathtaking suspense with astonishing empathy, Notes on an Execution presents a chilling portrait of womanhood as it simultaneously unravels the familiar narrative of the American serial killer, interrogating our system of justice and our cultural obsession with crime stories, asking readers to consider the false promise of looking for meaning in the psyches of violent men.”
Here are the notes I took right after reading: Gorgeous book. Somehow manages to build immense empathy for every single character in this sad, sad tale. In the end, I was left questioning whose actions were most horrific: the killer, the society that shaped him, the media that glorifies the killer while ignoring his victims, or perhaps most damning of all, the so-called justice system. Despite this, it somehow ends up being a strangely uplifting book in places – the definition of heartbreaking: it delves into the potential of human goodness while also showing the numberless ways that we fall short, but somehow still manages to be somewhat optimistic? It walks an absolutely impossible line, and I have no idea how the author pulled it off.
Notes on an Execution is the kind of book I would love to discuss in a class, to really delve into the themes and motifs and symbolism. The topics it covers are so huge and so entrenched in our media and society that I feel like I can’t begin to dissect them on my own. Since I don’t think that’s an option for me at the moment, I hope lots more people read it so that I can read more opinions on it!
YES all the stars recommend.
Bingo Square: Minds, for exploring the psychology of a serial killer without excusing his actions or creepily glorifying him.