My Sister, the Serial Killer
by Oyinkan Braithwaite
November 20, 2018 · Doubleday
RomanceScience Fiction/FantasyFantasy/Fairy Tale Romance
My Sister the Serial Killer is NOT a romance novel, but it might appeal to those of our readers with an interest in female rage and very dark humor. Set in Nigeria, the novel is narrated by a nurse named Korede. It opens as Korede is cleaning a crime scene. It’s clear that she has a lot of practice doing this:
I bet you didn’t know that bleach masks the smell of blood. Most people use bleach indiscriminately, assuming it is a catchall product, never taking the time to read the list of ingredients on the back, never taking the time to return to the recently wiped surface to take a closer look. Bleach will disinfect, but it’s not great for cleaning residue, so I use it only after I have first scrubbed the bathroom of all traces of life, and death.
Korede’s younger sister, Ayoola, has just killed her boyfriend. This is murder number three for Ayoola, who always claims self defense, begs Korede to help her, and then displays behavior that indicates neither grief, nor liberation, nor guilt, or even gratitude. It’s as though, for Ayoola, once Korede hides the body, the event never occurred, and she can go back to posing for pictures of herself dancing on Snapchat. “Too soon,” Korede scolds her, removing the phone and coaching Ayoola in the performance of public loss.
While Korede is busy worrying about her sister’s murder patterns (“Three, and they label you a serial killer,” she frets, after Googling), she pines over a doctor, Tade. Ayoola, who is exceptionally beautiful and stylish, comes to visit Korede at the hospital where Korede and Tade work and immediately he is stunned by her and starts dating her and showering her with expensive gifts. Now not only does Korede have a broken heart, but she’s also terrified for what might happen to Tade if Ayoola becomes angry with him, or even just becomes bored.
The book never shows the actual murders, leaving Ayoola’s motives mysterious. It does explore the sisters’ childhood with an abusive father, a passive mother, and an abusive aunt. These scenes are graphic and terrifying, and establish Korede’s role as Ayoola’s protector. Now that the sisters are adults, should Korede continue to protect Ayoola? Or should she protect Tade, whom she loves?
This is a very short book but every word counts. The story is gripping and the writing is sublime. There’s the additional enjoyment of getting a glimpse of life in Lagos, Nigeria, where the hospital is high tech but a man can still divorce his wife by saying, “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you.” The mix of different religions and cultures and old traditions and new social media enforces the idea that the world is unstable, morality is a moving target, and sisters should band together. But while Korede protects Ayoosha, it’s enraging that no one protects Korede.
I recommend this book to people who are interested in diverse voices, women’s rage, and complex family relationships. However, be warned that there is violence against children. There’s also some very dark humor, including a hilarious scene in which the sisters have to move a body using an apartment elevator. At one point Ayoola goes on a trip with a new boyfriend and comes back cheerful and alone. “How was your trip?” asks Korede. “It was fine, except he died,” Ayoola chirps. If this line makes you snort-laugh, and makes you, like Korede, wonder, “I wonder what the chances are that the death of a person in the company of a serial killer would come about by chance,” then you’ll like this book.
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