The Execution of Noa P. Singleton: A Novel
Elizabeth L. Silver
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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.
Meanwhile, Marlene Dixon, a high-powered Philadelphia attorney who is also the mother of the woman Noa was imprisoned for killing. She claims to have changed her mind about the death penalty and will do everything in her considerable power to convince the governor to commute Noa's sentence to life in prison, in return for the one thing Noa can trade: her story. Marlene desperately wants to understand the events that led to her daughter’s death—events that only Noa knows of and has never shared. 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.
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oh-so-conveniently, she decided to publicly blame herself and this incident in particular for how I turned out.) “Noa, sweetheart,” my mother screamed. “Cry for me, baby. Cry!” At that exact point in time, I apparently issued a guttural sound, a choke that sounded like I was releasing a gulp of seawater. “Noa!” my mother cried. “You’re okay. You’re gonna be okay. You’re gonna be okay. You have to be okay.” She reached for the phone. She still used a rotary and struggled to insert her
have me count a few ledgers and clean a few tables in my spare time. In exchange, he helped me pay part of my rent. Substitute teaching over the summer in a walking city didn’t exactly boast the highest income potential. Plus, I didn’t have air-conditioning. Bar Dive did. Period. People came to Philadelphia for the history, for the art, for the food, but were left with the humidity, a possible mugging, and a thin coat of grime on their skin each time they stepped outside. While tourists leaked
sunflower, had it wrapped in paper, and continued on until he arrived at his destination—a bluish-modern building sticking out from the architecture of the city like a mole. I looked up at the sign. It was Planned Parenthood. He grinned with the exuberance of a first-time father and waited. As soon as Sarah arrived, he licked that pea-pod scar over his lip and smiled at her. She pulled my father’s hand to her lower back, pushing it in as if massaging out the same cramp she’s had for months, and
about her father and did what she could to help him. She checked up on his pregnant girlfriend when she called looking for him. Unfortunately for my client, she didn’t know what apartment she was walking into.” I looked over to Marlene who held her gaze with Madison McCall the entire time, nodding with his comments every so often, twisting her neck to disagree with others. But as Madison McCall stumbled through his opening, painfully flogging each sentence so strangely, I was sure even Tom
Theory, which nobody ever deems appropriate—even for trial. It’s too hard to prove, I could hear Madison McCall say to me, before I even brought it up. “It’s not over,” he insisted. “You’re innocent of this crime. Your punishment should be commuted.” “I don’t want to go into this again.” “You’re legally innocent of this crime,” he continued. “I’m sure of it. You aren’t guilty of capital murder. It means you’d be off of death row—” “—Ollie …” “Regardless of the legal procedural flaws, there