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Check It Out: Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka

This is Leah Erdmann with the Sioux City Public Library, and you’re listening to Check it Out.

Today, I’m recommending Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka: a thought-provoking narrative that allows us to explore the darkest sides of human nature from the cozy confines of our couches.

Our curtain opens at t-minus 12 hours before Ansel Parker’s execution. As the serial killer anxiously awaits his fate, Kukafka immerses us in Ansel’s world, guiding us on an odyssey through his psyche and the web of relationships and experiences that led him to his grim destiny.

To recount Ansel's tale, the author crafted a mosaic of narratives sourced from women whose stories intertwine with that of the accused. From Ansel’s desperate mother, we’re told of the incidents in his early childhood that irrevocably altered his life’s trajectory. Through the lens of his conflicted sister-in-law, we learn how he attempts to navigate the world as an adult and the ways he manages to conceal (and, in key moments, reveal) his true character. And then there’s the determined young detective, unraveling the threads of Ansel’s story to reveal a truth that blurs the lines between villainy and humanity. With time running out, each character confronts the choices they made that led to tragedy, revealing the full extent of the physical and emotional destruction left in Ansel's wake.

Kukafka succeeds in doing the near impossible as she creates in Ansel a remarkably sympathetic character without condoning his actions in the slightest. She sheds light on systems that have failed to protect their most vulnerable and raises crucial ethical questions in answer to our innate tendency to point fingers. As we try to make heads or tails of the convicted murderer, Kukafka prompts us to confront our own inner complexities, highlighting how the boundary between right and wrong or good and bad can overlap more than we realize.

Check out Notes on an Execution and other noteworthy page-turners at the Sioux City Public Library.

Support for Check It Out on Siouxland Public Media comes from Verde Outdoor Media.

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