Review

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton

by Elizabeth L. Silver

Noa P. Singleton has long accepted her date with death. She will be exterminated on "X-Day" in accordance with her sentence as the court-decreed murderer of Sarah Dixon, the pregnant girlfriend of Noa's father. However, an unexpected event interrupts her placid countdown in prison. Sarah's mother, attorney Marlene Dixon, has evidently experienced a U-turn in her beliefs. She now opposes the death penalty and, along with her colleague, Oliver Stansted, will now fight to convince the governor to change Noa's sentence to life imprisonment. This battle comes at a cost, though: Marlene demands that Noa tell her the truth about her daughter's death. Yet Noa, who spoke not a word in her own defense during the court trial, is disinclined to tell her story to Marlene.

Nevertheless, Noa now confides her story to readers in her own cynical, witty voice, weaving and twisting her life into a knotty and intriguing puzzle. Even as her story unfolds, we wonder if we're learning the true story, as the tale shifts and metamorphoses. Can we trust Noa? Occasionally, we believe we've outsmarted the narrator and have sussed out the truth. But have we?

"THE EXECUTION OF NOA P. SINGLETON is an almost weirdly gripping thriller, presented in teasing slow motion. Author Elizabeth L. Silver displays a wicked genius for sucking us into a black maelstrom of nebulous uncertainty, making our need to find out the truth all the more urgent."

When Oliver appears at the Pennsylvania Institute for Women, he is taken aback by Noa's caustic "welcome"; her attitude is that she will die in November, a mere six months in the future, so why bother with a clemency plea? In turn, Noa is taken aback by Oliver's announcement that he and Marlene believe that they can change her future into life in prison. Marlene appears next. Noa challenges her: "What are you really here for, Marlene? You can't actually be in favor of keeping me alive."

Marlene assures Noa that saving the life of her daughter's murderer is indeed her intention. However, she wants proof that Noa has changed and that she is now a person of merit. How will Noa prove her character revision? By letting Marlene understand everything about her, starting with the unusual spelling of her name and continuing on to much more meaningful revelations. Regretting her decision even as she makes it, Noa finally agrees to tell Oliver (at least some version) of her life.

She begins, in typical contradictory Noa fashion, by telling us that her mother dropped her on her head soon after she was born. We learn plenty of colorful details (the baby was "…slimy and laminated with blood and amniotic fluid…) and the sad conclusion that poor Noa never had a chance. Next, she reverses herself. The first story, it seems, isn't the exact truth. Instead, she claims to have fallen when she was 10 months old, an accident that resulted in her mother lying about what happened, kicking Noa's crib until it broke, stabbing a couch, and meeting her next husband. Noa continues, as she counts off the months until X-Day, to "reveal" (I use the word loosely) her life in focused pulses that we can choose to believe her or not as she pulls us into the crux of her story. Noa is not necessarily a sympathetic or likable character, but she is definitely fascinating and unforgettable.

THE EXECUTION OF NOA P. SINGLETON is an almost weirdly gripping thriller, presented in teasing slow motion. Author Elizabeth L. Silver displays a wicked genius for sucking us into a black maelstrom of nebulous uncertainty, making our need to find out the truth all the more urgent. Believe the hype: this is quite the irresistible page-turner.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on July 3, 2013

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton
by Elizabeth L. Silver