Book Review: Death Sentences by Michael Zimecki

Introducing Death Sentences, a novel written in the form of a memoir and narrated by a guy on death row.

#Death Sentence

About Death Sentences

Peter “Pop” Popovich is a 24-year-old unemployed glazier, anti-Semite and white supremacist who is pushed over the edge by his chaotic mother, his unresponsive lover, an uncaring stepfather and a right-wing hate machine that tells him liberals want to take away his guns and his liberty.
While ‘POP’ waits to be executed for his crimes, he squibs sentences, whole paragraphs, a novel about life on Death Row in which he reprises the life that landed him there.
Death Sentences is loosely based on an incident in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in April 2009, when a lone gunman, convinced that the government was coming to take away his guns, had a four-hour standoff with police.
This explosive novel, reminiscent of the works of Ed Bunker and Charles Bukowski, is a hellish story from the American underclass, its disenfranchised characters long abandoned by government and society and prone to constant failure and excessive violence.

My Thoughts

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened Death Sentences. This could have been the sort of book I would pass by as not that entertaining or interesting. I am glad I stuck around and delved in, for this is quite a gem of a book for a number of reasons, not least it is well written and instantly engaging.

Meet the bizarrely likeable “Pop”, who is on death row for murder, as he outlines his life of incarceration in a penitentiary in Pennsylvania. There isn’t much to say. Living is limited, humiliation and deprivation are constants and it is little wonder that most inmates commit suicide before they ever get to meet their prescribed death.

What drives this story is Pop’s past and how he came to end up on death row. It is a past that applies to a lot of disenfranchised men in the US.

Pop grows up in Pittsburgh in poverty, surrounded by dysfunction. His mother is an alcoholic who lurches from one disastrous liaison after another. Pop is not stupid but he drops out of school feeling alienated and harbouring deep resentments. He  absorbs the racial hatred that surrounds him. He has a love affair with guns. After a spell in the marines his far-right paranoia is fed by conspiracy theories, expounded by the likes of Alex Jones. It is a potent mix that is not going to end well. Pop is just not capable of being anyone other than who is he, because there is no one in his life to show him another way.

The narrative is fast-paced, raw and punchy. Zimecki applies a cold, hard realism, drawing the reader into a world they would probably rather not have to think about and holds them there as the all-too familiar descent unfolds. By the end of it, the reader will be forgiven for wanting to put on trial the system that led Pop to commit his crimes.

Death Sentences takes the reader to places This Boy’s Life would not dare to go, but could have, if the protagonist/narrator had been more like Pop – especially when it came to bad luck – and made one or two different choices along the way. Zimecki has penned a necessary read; Death Sentences ought to be a set text in high school English.

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