A novella chronicles a condemned man’s final day before his execution.
In 2010, in an alternative America, a man named Ed Davis sits in a prison cell waiting to die. In 24 hours, he will face a firing squad for murdering a man on the city hall steps of his hometown of Elgin, California. After a decade of terrorist attacks and draconian security laws, President Trent came to power two years earlier and instituted a despotic, right-wing regime. Ed has long been a critic of the country’s rightward shift. In Elgin, he and his Sunday morning jogging club—the Slow Old Guys, as they were known—even attempted to wage their own nonviolent resistance on the local level. Then everything fell tragically apart, leaving Ed to contemplate his life’s wasted moments: “What I don’t know is: what would I take back? What I don’t know is: which of those minutes that seemed wasted led to others that weren’t? Maybe led to others that were great—a lifetime that was great in so many ways. Yet—they all led finally to this night, this place, this cell.” As the hours pass, he meets with friends, enemies, and bureaucrats, all the while digging deeper into his memory in order to find some antidote to his fear. Author Davis’ (In All Things, 2014, etc.) prose is sharp, particularly when he describes Ed’s present, slowly ratcheting up the tension with each tick of the clock: “There’s the door for the lunch-cart. A little late. Almost twenty after the hour, but what do I care? I’m not going anyplace—at least not for a while.” Less satisfying are the expositional passages that explain how America and Ed came to be in their current predicament, which are a tad dull and disappointingly uninventive. The author explains in his foreword that this novella was itself written in 24 hours back in 2002 (and as such, its political bent is actually a reaction to President George W. Bush, not Donald Trump). This perhaps explains some of the story’s shortcomings, but nevertheless leaves readers with a work that is not nearly as intriguing or revelatory as its premise promises.
A prison tale that offers a compelling setup but lacks momentum.