Trained as a lawyer, Silver has written a darkly witty, acerbic jigsaw puzzle of a first novel about legal versus moral culpability.
No one, including the title character, disputes that 25-year-old college dropout Noa shot Sarah Dixon, her former classmate at Penn, in her Philadelphia apartment. She was found guilty and sentenced to be executed for the capital crime of murdering both Sarah and the unborn child she was carrying, her apparent motive excessive envy that Sarah’s lover was Noa’s long-estranged father, Caleb. After 10 years in prison, Noa has only six months left before what she calls X-Day when Sarah’s mother visits. A successful lawyer herself, Marlene fought for Noa to receive the death sentence but claims she has recently had a change of heart. Having founded Mothers Against Death, Marlene plans to file a clemency appeal for Noa. Ollie, the idealist young lawyer Marlene has employed as her assistant, asks Noa to tell him about herself, supposedly to build a sympathetic case. Noa suspects Marlene’s motives but slowly opens up to attractive, sympathetic Ollie. Parceling bits of her history, Noa comes across as prickly and defensive, the kind of defendant that jurors (and readers) automatically distrust. Meanwhile, Marlene writes letters to her dead daughter that show her as a dominating, judgmental woman who bears her own share of guilt for interfering in Sarah’s life out of obsessive maternal love—although Caleb, a creepy, aging ex-con with a violent past, would be every mother’s nightmare. In stark contrast to Sarah, Noa was raised by an inattentive, single mother in California and did not meet Caleb until her early 20s when he was already involved with Sarah, a wildly inappropriate affair explicable only as Sarah’s rebellion against Marlene. As Noa, Marlene and, by extension, Caleb duel to justify their actions, no one comes out unscathed.
Like Suzanne Rendell in the novel The Other Typist (2013), Silver explores convolutions of guilt and innocence beyond the law’s narrow scope with a sharpness and attention to detail that can be unnerving but demands attention.