A Novel for the Women Who Survive
Bestselling author and literary agent Danya Kukafka was weary of society’s compulsive obsession with male serial killers—the focus should be on the victims and their families, she believes.
As such, NOTES ON AN EXECUTION is not the serial killer’s story. In her author’s notes, Kukafka writes that the novel “was born from a desire to dissect this exhausted narrative, society’s fascination with serial killers. We rarely talk about what we lose when women die. The book belongs, instead, to the women irrevocably changed by his actions. This is a book for women who survive.”
Serial killer Ansel Packer, inmate 999631, has only 12 hours to live. Although the story begins with the countdown to his execution, the real focus of the novel is on the women involved in his life, and the lives of his victims.
In 1973, Ansel’s mother, Lavender, is only 17 when she gives birth to him in the barn at an isolated farm. Her abusive husband is unforgiving in his demands that she and Ansel show the gratitude he deserves. Upon the birth of her second son, Lavender’s desperation to escape her life takes precedence above all else, even her sons. She must save herself, or she will perish.
Saffron (Saffy) Singh first meets Ansel at Ms. Gemma’s house in 1984, where they are both foster kids. Saffy’s infatuation with Ansel comes to an end when she discovers his fascination with violence and death. Ansel’s cruelty toward her leaves Saffy damaged, reliving the nightmare again and again.
Hazel Fisk meets Ansel in 1991 when her twin sister, Jenny, brings him home for Christmas. Until Jenny met Ansel, the girls were inseparable. Now that he’s in their lives, his presence threatens to tear their family apart.
In 1999, the buried remains of three girls who disappeared in 1990 are found, and Saffy is the NY State Police investigator assigned to the case. She can’t help but consider what the dead girls’ lives would have been if they’d lived. Saffy will catch the Girly Killer.
Ansel believes that “there is good and there is evil, and the contradiction lives in everyone. The good is simply the stuff worth remembering.”
Kukafka writes the narrative in chapters alternating between Ansel, written in a detached second person, and the women, writing in third person. Her literary prose throughout the book is almost lyrical, beautiful in its metaphors and rich in imagery.
Read the rest of the article and interview with Kukafka in The Big Thrill.