Books on Tap met virtually to discuss My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite on the strength of the suggestion of a former JMRL librarian who enjoyed the audiobook. This fast-paced, darkly humorous thriller is not our usual book club choice but we all enjoyed it. As readers we are thrown in medias res into the action, watching Korede answering her sister’s Ayoola’s call to clean up yet another of her murders. Korede is a nurse in Lagos, Nigeria and takes her caretaking role as the elder sister very seriously. Her younger, prettier sister attracts too much male attention and uses her knife when enough is enough. Their mother favors Ayoola so Korede resorts to confessing their crimes to her comatose patient, who inconveniently wakes up.
We started by discussing the limit of our obligation to family. Korede clearly sees her sister’s flaws and the box society puts both of them in. She doesn’t see helping her sister dispose of body after body as a choice, it’s just something she has to do, even when she likes the victim. The sisters are tightly bonded by the violence they suffered at their father’s hand. This reminded one reader of a recent book club memoir, Educated by Tara Westover, who also describes how her father’s abuse bonded her to some siblings and alienated her from others. It also led us to debate how many men Ayoola has killed. Both sisters start counting with Ayoola’s first boyfriend, but the novel leaves room for us to think that both sisters killed their father years ago when the sexual danger to Ayoola is first made explicit in her own home.
This ambiguity was part of the fairytale nature of the story. The characters’ motivation and personalities are all well drawn, as are the glimpses we see of Lagos and Nigerian culture, but there is an otherworldly sense. Both sisters are absolutely certain about past and present murders and there’s no sign that the murders will end. The author, a poet, uses economical prose and precise pacing to draw us in to this improbable story and keep us enchanted to the end.
And that’s what we responded most to. In a month when the news didn’t stop for a second, this quick read offered a refuge. It took us out of our present circumstances and gave us a movie-like escape that was easy to focus on for a few hours. We highly recommend both the print and audio if you’re struggling to concentrate enough to read your usual favorites.
Books on Tap will meet again on December 3 via Zoom. For the link, please contact Krista Farrell (kfarrell at jmrl dot org). We’ll be reading Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, which the library owns in multiple formats. Email Sarah Hamfeldt (shamfeldt at jmrl dot org) for help accessing these titles for curbside pickup or by download.