Sunday, August 11, 2019

MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER delivers appalled laughs, existential shivers, and great hopes for her next work


$14.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4.25* of five

The Publisher Says: My Sister, the Serial Killer is a blackly comic novel about how blood is thicker—and more difficult to get out of the carpet—than water...

When Korede's dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what's expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This'll be the third boyfriend Ayoola's dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede's long been in love with him, and isn't prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other...

AUGUST 2019 UPDATE Oyinkan Braithwaite talks about How to Make Multiple Stabbings Funny! Interesting podcast.


My Review
It takes a lot longer to dispose of a body than to dispose of a soul, especially if you don't want to leave any evidence of foul play.

And just like *that* I'm totally hooked. Second book this month set in Lagos; and second informed by a special Nigerian magical realism. (The other is David Mogo, Godhunter. Excellent as well.) This is a light entertainment, a shiny pretty costume-jewelry of a story that sets your readerly mood in its most attractive and colorful light. It's fun. It's got the Double Indemnityesque delight of a love triangle detonated by jealousy, the In Cold Bloodness of a crime spree done for the sheer hell of it, and that utterly madcap Thelma and Louisely sanitized violence and death.

Yes, sanitized. Korede reports, doesn't narrate, the aftermath of Ayoola's kills. She keeps the details sparse enough to inform but not nauseate. Korede stands between us and Ayoola the serial killer. (Thank goodness. I don't think I could've read a whole novel from Ayoola's PoV!) So we're safe, we're not going to the places Korede has seen, we needn't do what Korede does.

Those things that she must do in the name of Family, of keeping her sister from suffering the consequences of her actions, weigh on Korede. Naturally, I hear you snort, they would on anyone! It's a lot to carry. Korede needs a confessor and, since she's a hospital nurse, she is in the path of the perfect confessor-cum-confidant: Muhtar, a comatose patient with a neglectful family. She tells him Everything: details of the killings, the things she's had to do to cover them up, the awful sick feeling of being accessory to a serial killer...she talks it out to his vacant-but-breathing ears. How good it feels! Confession truly is good for the soul.

Not so much for the body...Muhtar wakes up. He's delighted to meet the nurse whose voice, in its daily presence, gave him the will to live and return. And yes, he remembers all. He's quite sure of what he heard Korede say. And do you know, he simply doesn't care because:
"...we are hardwired to protect and remain loyal to the people we love. Besides, no one is innocent in this world. Why, go up to your maternity ward! All those smiling parents and their newborns? Murderers and victims. Every one of them. 'The most loving parents and relatives commit murder with smiles on their faces. They force us to destroy the person we really are: a subtle kind of murder.'"

"That's quite..." I can't complete the sentence. The words trouble me.

"It's a quote by Jim Morrison. I cannot lay claim to such wisdom."
Again, Author Braithwaite sweeps me away on her word-tide. She quotes Jim Morrison and does it well. She creates a full-fledged memorable character out of a comatose guy. This is a writer with chops. (You should forgive.) She has done the best for Korede that she can in giving her a sage and caring counselor, especially as the hospital is well-stocked with people she must not and cannot trust:
She smiles, hoping to put me at ease, but the expression does not sit comfortably on her face. ... I would be more at ease if the Joker were to smile at me.
Korede is, in that moment, trying to keep her cool as the Lagos police are returning her car to her possession after running tests for Ayoola's latest victim's blood on it. Her nosy colleague, trying to get the dirt, is doomed to failure as Korede does what she's best at: Stays mum. Protects Ayoola. Pretends she is doing a good thing, being loyal to and as always protecting her younger sister. Family first!

Besides, it's what Korede doesn't do...what in the end she chooses to allow to occur to someone over whom she rhapsodizes, "Is there anything more beautiful than a man with a voice like an ocean?"...that defines her as a moral actor. I disagree with her choice, and I would've liked a chance to convince her to change her mind. With a two-by-four to the knees if necessary. But Korede, as written, really couldn't have made a different choice, so here we are.

Overall, the story's setting, cultural differences that kept me on my Google-fu, and an authorial style I found me to a shade over four stars. It wasn't hard to get there. Where I just can't get to, though, is the place where this entertainment got itself onto the Booker Prize 2019 longlist! That makes no sense to me, because there are wonderful and delicious moments in this book to savor but it does nothing that's particularly innovative. At least not in my eyes. Many will disagree, I don't doubt.

As a read, this is a superior summer entertainment. It won, deservedly, the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Mystery/Thriller in 2018. But it isn't High Art, and I don't think it set out to be. It is a first novel of great promise and I want to see Oyinkan Braithwaite's second one with great anticipatory glee.

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