With her first sentences, Yasuko Thanh displays creative courage. The opening story of this collection takes us to a B.C. prison in 1948, and the mind of a murderer just a day away from execution by hanging. Alone in his final holding cell, Donny withdraws into abject rumination. He recalls childhood moments: baby birds in the porch eaves; his parents singing beside him in church. Seen in the mind of a man who has kicked someone to death, the images are humanizing. Thanh generates sympathy for a man facing state-sanctioned brutality, though she might have better trusted readers’ intuitions. When Donny observes, “The deepest injuries are those we inflict on our loved ones,” it’s only a truism for what already lives more subtly in Thanh’s subtext. The story’s purposeful, heartfelt stance against state killing of killers is ultimately its literary liability. We agree easily with the call for mercy, but the emotional punch never quite comes.