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The Execution of Noa P. Singleton: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 11, 2013
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, June 2013: Smart, quick and disarmingly direct, the eponymous heroine of this stunning debut is a twenty-something college dropout on death row for murder in Pennsylvania. Did Noa P. Singleton actually kill the daughter of the woman now agitating for the state to commute her death sentence? And if so (or even if not) why is Sarah Dixon’s mom, who writes letters to her dead daughter throughout, so anxious for Noa to be cleared? If those were the only questions, this would have been an average thriller. Thanks to very complex characters (particularly Caleb, Noa’s mostly absent father who not coincidentally is sleeping with Sarah) and jagged, jarring prose--a gun sits in a backpack “awkwardly like an adult in a kindergarten class”; Noa declines to occupy the passenger seat on her lawyer’s “virginal ride to salvation”--and a plot that twists and turns but never neatly resolves, it’s genius: a pithy, funny, sad story about truth and lies, and whether we ever really, truly know the difference. --Sara Nelson
In this vividly written debut novel, Silver, a lawyer, brings her background to bear on the story of a woman who is 10 years into her stay on death row. Six months before her scheduled execution date, Noa P. Singleton, who was sentenced to death for the murder of her father’s pregnant girlfriend, Sarah Dixon, is visited by the victim’s mother, Marlene, a high-powered attorney. Marlene has reversed her opinion on the death penalty and is seeking to file a petition of clemency on Noa’s behalf, but Noa is highly skeptical of Marlene’s motives. In the cleverly constructed narrative, which alternates between Noa’s diary and the self-serving letters Marlene pens to her dead daughter, the circumstances of the crime begin to emerge. And though by novel’s end, the characters prove unlikable and their motives murky, Silver definitely delivers a thought-provoking examination of the criminal-justice system, providing a clear-eyed view of the artificial theatrics that dominate criminal trials and a heartfelt look at both grief and remorse. An intriguing debut from a writer to watch. --Joanne Wilkinson
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The premise was what drew me in on this one - like a number of other books I've read recently, it seems like authors these days are great at pitching ideas, but fall down when it comes to the actual writing. And the writing here is so bad, I have trouble understanding how any editor or publisher could have read it and thought it was good or worth publishing. The characters are not believable, the situations are not believable, and the book is downright boring. I had to force myself to finish it so I could check it off my list and get on with something better. What a missed opportunity to explore legal issues, death penalty issues and other topics that the book's premise brings up!
Surely we can do better than this? What are publishers thinking when they bring out books like this - that we'll just overlook how bad it is, or that we don't know any better? I would not look at other books by this author even if I got them for free. Don't waste your money or your time.
Although this novel has an intriguing premise and was listed among Amazon's "Best Books of the Month" (a testament more to the skill of Ms. Silver's publicist than to the taste of Amazon's editors), it is unfortunately an abject failure. Apart from the wholly unsatisfying nature of the rather ridiculous final "reveal" of the crime, the writing is painfully overblown, consisting of page after page strewn with awkward and often nonsensical similes. A few examples:
"Marlene twisted her neck like the top of a soda bottle opening." (Sounds like Marlene will be needing a chiropractor.)
"It's isolating, like a termite scuffling up your innards." (Huh?)
"The pearl of blood dripped onto the white duvet like a spot of chocolate." (Yum.)
"A pale rough armor covered his mouth like scales from a striated fish." (Try as I might, I just can't make a sensible mental picture of this.)
"A smirk seeped out between my lips like an unsuspecting belch." (I've never seen a smirk between someone's lips, nor do I have any idea what a belch might suspect or not suspect.)
"Thirteen individuals, marinating in the enclosed jury box like a carton of dried-out fruit." (Um, if it's marinating, it's not dried out.)
"His heart was too visible outside his garments, where it resided like lint on a week-old sweater." (Is there a different kind of lint on a two-week-old sweater? Though I suppose if your heart is visible outside of your garments, you've got a lot worse problems than lint.)
"His moans lubricated the phone lines like a sexually transmitted disease." (Oh, dear.... not just an STD, but a lubricating one.)
At times Ms. Silver appears unable (or unwilling) to decide which of her army of similes to use, so she just throws them all in: "The water felt so warm and soothing on its way down, like honey dripping from a cone. Like ice cream from a scoop. Like thick hot chocolate, gooey with melted marshmallows on its veneer." On other occasions, similes appear repetitively in consecutive sentences, such as the following trifecta: "My heart trilled like the swirling end of a violin solo. My mind circled like whirling dervishes. My eyes dried as if someone were blowing into them."
Sorry, Ms. Silver, but including "like" in the majority of your sentences doesn't make your novel "literary"... just tiresome.
Apart from the wholly excessive use of simile, many sentences use such clunky vocabulary and syntax that the reader is left scratching his or her head even after multiple readings:
"I noticed a shadow lurking on the corner, a diffident amalgamation of restraint and might all in the same amorphous splotch."
"I gave him one of those smiles you give when you are uncomfortable or when enough years have passed with an old acquaintance that you no longer have to say hello to anymore when you see him on the street."
"Whirls of tornadic subjugation seeped through the little holes of the telephone receiver." (WTF?)
If any of the above seems like good writing to you, by all means enjoy "The Execution of Noa P. Singleton." If not, save your money.