- What: My Sister, the Serial Killer
- Who: Oyinkan Braithwaite
- Pages: 220 pages
- Genre: Contemporary fiction
- Published: 2018
- The lit: of 5 flames
No judgment on yet another Swift-inspired book review title. I can’t help who influences me!
OK, so thrillers and mysteries don’t find themselves on Big Little Literature that often. I can’t provide an explanation for this other than I usually get swept up in other genres. So I was looking forward to something different with my latest read, My Sister, the Serial Killer.
Despite what the title says, I didn’t get any thriller or mystery vibes — though a lot of readers and critics certainly did. Yes, there are some murders, and there is tension about the culprit being caught. But this novel, with themes of abuse, family, and loyalty, doesn’t remind me of any other book I’ve read in those genres. In fact, it’s completely different than any book I’ve read.
It’s funny and dark and has just the right amount of f**ked-upness. Do I feel weird saying I appreciated how refreshing this book was? Even if the “refreshment” stems from a serial killer and a sister who takes care of the body? Ehhh I never professed normalcy.
Getting a call from your sister that she’s killed someone will never not come as a surprise … even if this is the third occurrence. But Korede, being the practical and loyal sister she is, knows she must protect Ayoola. So she packs up the cleaning supplies and makes her way to the scene of the crime to clean up and dispose of the body. Korede’s practicalities and loyalty always seem to erase her reluctance and bitterness toward her sister — who already has it all.
Ayoola carries around a light that attracts everyone she sees. She has the perfect figure, looks, and personality. Men salivate at the thought of being with her, and women yearn to be her best friend. Ayoola has always been the favorite no matter what room she enters, including in the house they share with their mother. People don’t see her sociopathic, self-centered, and malicious ways, which is taking a toll on Korede maybe more so than her sister’s personality itself. Her fierce loyalty to her sister, though, does put Korede on the same playing field as all the other men and women obsessed with Ayoola: She would do anything for her just like they would.
But how long can she continue to cover and protect Ayoola, one of the most selfish people she’s ever known? The fine line between loyalty and morals only becomes thinner when a doctor with whom Korede works becomes interested in Ayoola. Not only does she care about this man as a colleague, but she’s long harbored feelings for this kind and attractive man.
In this novel, which takes place in Lagos, Nigeria, author Oyinkan Braithwaite asks an important question: Do you do what’s right or protect the ones you love? Braithwaite takes that seemingly practical question to a frightening and humorous level.
So yes, one of the main characters is a serial killer, and the other main character — who tells this story — covers up her crimes. Normally, we would see main characters trying to outwit or outrun the killer. Not in this novel. Braithwaite totally ups the ante, and yes, I did enjoy reading from the perspective of someone in cahoots with a killer. I have no problem reading books with narratives and themes I’ve read before. Different writing styles and new characters can generally keep things fresh. But this book gives “original” a whole new twist, and I am loving it.
Not to mention the book makes me laugh, which may or may not say something about my own sociopathic tendencies. Ayoola is so self-centered and naive that you can’t help but giggle at the ridiculous things she says and believes, and Korede’s inner dialogue, metaphors, and similes illustrate the witty and honest writing style of Braithwaite. Here’s a gem of an example:
“My hand isn’t steady. You need steady hands when you are applying makeup, but I am not used to it. There never seemed to be much point in masking my imperfections. It’s as futile as using air freshener when you leave the toilet — it just inevitably ends up smelling like perfumed shit.”My Sister, the Serial Killer
Rather than being littered with witty remarks or funny scenes, Braithwaite adds the boldest, most-cutting remarks intermittently so the narrative has a steady rhythm of humor. This gives the feeling of a dry sense of humor rather than straight comedic relief, which I appreciate and which reminds me of Korede herself.
The interactions among the characters also shine with honesty and that awkwardness that makes you grin. Braithwaite’s descriptions of girlish crushes are spot on, and if you’re like me and we’re never chased by gaggles of men, you’ll totally connect with Korede and her interactions with them.
“As I exit the room, I swing my hips the way Ayoola is fond of doing. ‘Are you okay?’ he calls after me as my hand reaches the doorknob. I turn to face him. ‘Hmmm?’ ‘You’re walking funny.’ ‘Oh, uh — I pulled a muscle.’ Shame, I know thy name. I open the door and leave the room quickly.”My Sister, the Serial Killer
Aside from the laughter and honesty, Braithwaite also provides powerful descriptions. As a cleanliness addict on the border of OCD, Korede cleans to an excessive degree and will spot any blemish on any wall or floor. The descriptions of these thoughts and of the cleaning scenes are so powerful that you can smell the bleach and watch the filth wash away right in front of you. That’s strong writing.
In the midst of all this powerful writing and humor, Braithwaite drops in some fascinating themes you wouldn’t expect from a dark comedy, such as this novel. The sisters have experienced abuse in the past, which clearly has affected both of them (albeit in different ways). And the moral questions this books asks will force you to ponder without ever concluding an answer. To explore such powerful themes among a dark, twisted narrative only makes me wish I had more pages from this book so I could have had a bit more context. I also know I would have thoroughly enjoyed reading another hundred or so from this work of art. If Braithwaite’s writing is this good in her “skillful, sardonic debut,” I can’t wait to read more.