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The Execution of Noa P. Singleton

Cover of The Execution of Noa P. Singleton

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton

A Novel

An unforgettable and unpredictable debut novel of guilt, punishment, and the stories we tell ourselves to survive

Noa P. Singleton never spoke a word in her own defense throughout a brief trial that ended with a jury finding her guilty of first-degree murder. Ten years later, having accepted her fate, she sits on death row in a maximum-security penitentiary, just six months away from her execution date.
Seemingly out of the blue, she is visited by Marlene Dixon, a high-powered Philadelphia attorney who is also the mother of the woman Noa was imprisoned for killing. Marlene tells Noa that she has changed her mind about the death penalty and Noa's sentence, and will do everything in her considerable power to convince the governor to commute the sentence to life in prison, in return for the one thing Noa is unwilling to trade: her story.
Marlene desperately wants Noa to reveal the events that led to her daughter's death – events that Noa has never shared with a soul. With death looming, Marlene believes that Noa may finally give her the answers she needs, though Noa is far from convinced that Marlene deserves the salvation she alone can deliver. Inextricably linked by murder but with very different goals, Noa and Marlene wrestle with the sentences life itself can impose while they confront the best and worst of what makes us human in this haunting tale of love, anguish, and deception.

An unforgettable and unpredictable debut novel of guilt, punishment, and the stories we tell ourselves to survive

Noa P. Singleton never spoke a word in her own defense throughout a brief trial that ended with a jury finding her guilty of first-degree murder. Ten years later, having accepted her fate, she sits on death row in a maximum-security penitentiary, just six months away from her execution date.
Seemingly out of the blue, she is visited by Marlene Dixon, a high-powered Philadelphia attorney who is also the mother of the woman Noa was imprisoned for killing. Marlene tells Noa that she has changed her mind about the death penalty and Noa's sentence, and will do everything in her considerable power to convince the governor to commute the sentence to life in prison, in return for the one thing Noa is unwilling to trade: her story.
Marlene desperately wants Noa to reveal the events that led to her daughter's death – events that Noa has never shared with a soul. With death looming, Marlene believes that Noa may finally give her the answers she needs, though Noa is far from convinced that Marlene deserves the salvation she alone can deliver. Inextricably linked by murder but with very different goals, Noa and Marlene wrestle with the sentences life itself can impose while they confront the best and worst of what makes us human in this haunting tale of love, anguish, and deception.

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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    Chapter 1

    It all started six months before X‑day when Oliver Stansted and Marlene Dixon visited the Pennsylvania Institute for Women in Muncy. Oliver trotted eagerly in first, like a wet surfer trying so desperately not to miss his second wave. He had thin brown hair that hung limply around the cherry contour of his face in a style that was probably at least a decade behind the times. (I know this because it was the hairstyle of choice when I was arrested.) A lone dimple nicked the center of his chin in a clean gunshot.

    I was in the diminutive holding cell with the telephone receivers where they dragged me whenever I had a visitor. Visitors weren't rare—a story for the local newspaper? a feature for a news magazine television series? a book deal?—but when Oliver Stansted came up for his first breath, firm but anxious, steady but nervous, twenty, maybe twenty-five, I realized that my expectations would quickly need readjustment.

    "Noa, is it?" he said, speaking impossibly close to the receiver. "Noa Singleton?"

    The aristocratic Noa is it? British phrasing of his greeting skipped upward at the end of the statement as if it were a posh question in one syllable. Confidence and naïveté burst in the same hyperenunciated greeting.

    "My name is Oliver Stansted and I'm a lawyer in Philadelphia," he said, looking down to his little script. His was handwritten in red ink. "I work for a nonprofit organization that represents inmates on death row and at various other points of the appeals process, and I've just recently been appointed to your case."

    "Okay," I said, staring at him.

    He was not the first wide-eyed advocate to use me as a bullet point on his climb to success. I was used to these unexpected visits: the local news reporters shortly after I was arrested, the national ones after my conviction, the appointed appellate lawyers year after begrudging year as I was drafted into the futile cycle of appeals without anyone truly listening to me explain that I had no interest in pursuing further legal action, that I just wanted to get to November 7 as quickly as possible. They, like this new one, had no concern for my choices.

    "So what do you want with me?" I asked. "I'm out of appeals. They're killing me in November. 'First woman to fry in years.' You read the news, don't you?"

    Mr. Oliver Stansted forced another smile to replicate the one that had deflated while I spoke. He ran his fingers through his hair, pulling it out of the clean part on the side, all in order to appear the very image of a public interest lawyer; a die-hard anti–death penalty advocate who chose to marry the alleged system of justice instead of entering a legal union of his own. And, like all the others who came to me before the middle-age conversion of Republicanism set in, even his voice was typecast to match his hairstyle and choice of wardrobe: docile as a prostrated ocean, as if he had slipped from his mother's womb begging for a nonprofit position and studio apartment to match. I hated him instantly.

    "Well, despite the fact that you're out of appeals, I've been chatting with some of your lawyers, and—"

    "—which ones?" I jumped. "Stewart Harris? Madison McCall?"

    I'd been sitting in this cubicle for nearly a decade listening to a veritable rainbow of lawyers talk at me about the lowly little trial attorneys they thought screwed me over.

    "Tell me this, Mr. Oliver Stansted. Why am I supposed to sit here and destroy their careers just so you can feel like you're doing the right thing?"

    He smiled again as if I had just complimented him.

    "Well, I have spoken with Mr....
About the Author-
  • ELIZABETH L. SILVER was born in New Orleans and currently lives in Los Angeles. She holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania, an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia in England, and a JD from Temple University Beasley School of Law.

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine This is the rare novel that captivates and intellectually stimulates--while leaving listeners wondering about the characters' true motivations. The titular Singleton is an admittedly guilty murderer who has never shared her feelings, not even with her lawyers. On death row she faces her victim's mother, who wants to spare Singleton's life-- but only if she will explain why she committed the murder. While the book is narrated by both Rebecca Lowman and Amanda Carlin, Lowman, as Singleton, carries the heavier load superbly. Lowman's delivery prompts listeners to feel as though they have entered Singleton's psyche, while still using just the right inflection to maintain the protective cocoon that makes the story so gripping and Singleton so intriguing. D.J.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award (c) AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine
  • BookPage

    BookPage's 10 Notable Books for June: "A rare thriller that will be equally appealing for beach reading or book club discussion...riveting legal drama."

  • Entertainment Weekly "Like the narrators in recent best-sellers Gone Girl and The Dinner, Noa is endlessly complex and impossible to trust. Don't try to outsmart her -- you can't. Just let her manipulate, shock, and maybe even move you. A-"
  • The Wall Street Journal "Bracing and combative... a classic slow-burn, with Ms. Silver spinning the web...and masterfully revealing the threads that connect [the characters] to each other and to the crime...The novel proceeds to its heart-wrenching conclusion by a series of feints and betrayals that would make Gillian Flynn stand and applaud."
  • Washington Post "Fantastic first novel...[A] minor flaw doesn't interfere with the fun of doing some grown-up Nancy Drew sleuthing as the dark mystery unfurls...Silver makes us think critically about capital punishment without ever getting up on a soapbox or turning her great yarn into a civics lesson. As this unstoppable story bounds end-over-end to "X-Day," we are reminded that everybody is guilty of something. Forgiveness, freedom and peace are rare commodities, and Silver keeps us guessing about whether or not we will find them here."
  • Dallas Morning News "I cannot recall a debut novel written more skillfully than The Execution of Noa P. Singleton... It works as a first-rate murder mystery...Suffice it to say that every development harbors surprises, but surprises that seem plausible... Apart from the plotting, why is this novel superb? In large part because Silver is a master at delineating the lines between legal guilt and moral guilt. Is Singleton a murderer according to the law? Maybe, maybe not. Is Singleton a murderer according to societal codes of behavior? Almost certainly... In terms of literary style, Silver reels off memorable sentence after memorable sentence. I look forward to reading her next book."
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch "A sophisticated debut novel... Silver deftly handles dark and weighty topics without ever sacrificing a literary attention to detail... But Silver is aiming for something more than good writing, satisfyingly complicated characters or a page-turning mystery... The Execution of Noa P. Singleton is a not just a novel, but a mirror upheld to a fragile, human criminal justice system."
  • O, The Oprah Magazine "In this grippingly off-kilter thriller, a young woman sits on death row after being convicted of murder until a high-powered attorney -- the victim's mother -- intervenes, leaving everyone to wonder why."
  • Cleveland Plain Dealer "Silver is a talent to watch, a writer able to conjure odd and savagely beautiful images from the mundane."
  • The Minneapolis Star Tribune "[A] tense and multi-layered first novel...Noa's powerful voice, full of attitude and alienation, commands attention throughout the book...In Noa, Silver has created an articulate and intelligent protagonist who asks us to revisit our existing notions of victimhood."
  • BookPage "Gripping and introspective first novel...The book revolves around the "why"...It is an emotion-packed style, similar to that used by Lionel Shriver in her acclaimed novel We Need to Talk About Kevin, as the reader tries to come to grips with how much weight should be given to mitigating circumstances in determining guilt or innocence."
  • Federal Lawyer "What does one look for in a good novel? Fascinating characters, a terrific plot, depth of thought? Silver delivers all of these and more. Her prose is paradoxically both unflinching and poetic. She creates magic with unsparing truth. Is there innocence disguised within guilt? Is redemption possible? Can punishment truly fit the crime?"
  • The New Republic "The wonderful contradiction of the antiheroine is that she cannot help but narrate her story unreliably, most of all to herself...Noa's voice is so pungent and potent as she describes the facts and pooh-poohs the theories of her c
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The Execution of Noa P. Singleton
The Execution of Noa P. Singleton
A Novel
Elizabeth L. Silver
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