Three, and they label you a serial killer.
Doubleday Books | 2018
Filed Under: Rub-a-dub-dub, cleaning blood out of a tub.
I don’t really know how to rate this book really, so I’m giving half of five stars because that seems the fairest. I mean, honestly, the cover deserves one of those stars just on its own. Talk about fucking gorgeous! I don’t even need words to read after that, honestly.
But when it comes to the words, this wasn’t really what I thought it would be, or what I wanted it to be. It wasn’t bad, it just seemed like the hammer missed the head of the nail. It felt outside of my usual book choices when it comes to fiction even though it really should have been right up my alley.
The gist is: Korede is a nurse who also has a passion for cleaning, or rather a talent for it. She’s also an older sister. She finds herself constantly cleaning up her younger sister Ayoola’s, messes, as older sisters tend to do. But these particular messes come in the form of men that Ayoola has had to kill in the name of self-defence. Each time Korede helps her little sister get rid of a body and finds herself cleaning up blood, her rational brain gets a little bit louder: maybe Ayoola just likes to kill. Maybe she’s a serial killer. Maybe she’s taking advantage of Korede.
When Ayoola starts dating a doctor with whom Korede is secretly in love with, she starts to worry he might be Ayoola’s next victim. A war inside Korede starts to brew between doing what is objectively right and doing what is right as a sister.
“You’re a big sister now, Korede. And big sisters look after little sisters.”
So, for as much as the synopsis of the book revolves around murder, I would say there was very little it in to really engage my crime fiction-loving brain. I’d call this closer to a contemporary story – one about the bonds of sisters, the responsibilities an older sister feels, the animosity that can exist, growing sometimes out of how a parent might treat their children based on birth order.
As an older sister myself, I really connected to this aspect of the book. Though my sister’s “crimes” don’t come close to murder, there is definitely a difference in how we are treated. The adult vs. the baby. And this is something I’ve brought up to my parents before because it can irritate me. For example, my sister’s 32nd birthday. My mother set up a bowling alley birthday party like my sister was turning 12, and got the whole family together and then afterwards there was cake and presents.
For my 33rd birthday just two months earlier, my mother sent me a card in the mail. And my dad sent me money through email. *eye twitch*
As much as I could understand the sisterly aspect of Korede’s struggle, I couldn’t see myself doing what she did if my sister was that fucking awful. Ayoola has zero remorse, as you would expect from a serial killer, but she also isn’t given any redeeming qualities so she’s not sympathetic. With zero sympathy-drive, it’s very hard to grasp why Korede, for all her intelligence, was such a doormat to someone she couldn’t stand. Maybe it’s rooted in the different culture, I don’t know enough to say.
I felt like I needed a lot more explanation as to how this relationship existed the way it did and why. What we are given is surface. Nothing is so awful that Korede should have so much resentment towards her sister. It seems to all stem from the fact that Ayoola got all of the “good” genes – she’s the most gorgeous girl in all of Nigeria apparently. People of all gender identities and sexual orientations will stop and stare and drool whenever Ayoola walks into a room. Sure.
Korede, however, has always been the plain Jane, a studious good girl who the boys don’t pay attention to, and who her mother relies on to be the responsible one, while letting Ayoola get away with whatever she pleases. This unbalance is what drives Korede to her intense animosity of Ayoola.
For me, it was like get the fuck over it already Korede. I get it on some level, but also, come on. Why be immature and held captive to such nothingness? You’re a smart, medical professional! Why am I reading a story about a competent adult woman who is bitching and moaning about not being prettier, as if that is what matters? Maybe I’m just too inclined to cut toxic people out of my life to ride the pity party bus with Korede. Snip, snip, motherfuckers!
Moreover, if Korede can’t stand her sister why is she always helping her out of these murder situations? It was obviously coming from a deep sense of loyalty and familial bond. Snip, snip. But for me, there was absolutely nothing about their interactions that would explain such an illogical, dangerous compliant devotion. There was zero benefit to Korede, big or small.
Reading this book was really just an exercise in being annoyed a good chunk of the time because even though Ayoola was a serial killer, Korede was actually the worst character in the book. Every decision she made was just nonsensical.
With a title as catchy and direct as this book has, I could have really done with way more dark and twisted elements – murder, gore, blood or just a general psychological understanding of why Ayoola was killing. Maybe the assumption is it’s just because she wants to, that she can, that she is testing the limits of what people will let her get away with. Maybe it’s that her father was an abusive asshole and that affected her. But all of those ideas could be expanded to provide a deeper connection to the characters and the motivation; in turn, elevating a reader’s emotional reactions.
Aloof, cold killers are just are interesting in their disregard for life as the ones that have the most bizarre, complex and ridiculous motivations. It just needs to be presented in the right way. And “vague” is not the right way for my personal tastes.
Ayoola has little-to-no history. Korede has little history outside of her current job and her shallow feelings towards her sister. I needed so much more depth to the themes being explored here. This was only half a book, really. It’s as if it was published before it was completely written.
I don’t know what other readers are smoking but it’s obviously the good stuff because I didn’t find this funny, dark comedy or otherwise. It definitely has the potential to be darkly funny. It could have been this offbeat, Tarantino-esque gory, absurd story with witty dialogue and bright scenes full of odd interactions and stark moments, but it’s not that.
There is an element to the writing that I did enjoy – the cadence. The words have a flow and a minimalist rhythm to them that came across like poetry. The problem for me was that when a character had to express thoughts or feelings, it had an immature, bratty or illogical vibe. That ruined the poetry side to the writing.
There’s also an underlying feeling of “women should be in the kitchen” to this that irked me. Maybe that’s the culture, but the culture and the setting of Nigeria isn’t explored enough to make sense of it for me. I suppose it doesn’t need to be expanded upon for the ignorant, but whatever. In a general sense, it just raised my feminist hackles.
This is by no means a “bad” book or even the worst book I’ve read out of the last 100, but it’s just not what I wanted it to be. And what it tries to be, doesn’t work particularly well for me. It’s not satire and it’s not crime fiction. And as a contemporary, I found it lacked the depth I need for an emotional connection. But if you’re into tales of sister relationships that exist in absurd situations, then you’re probably going to like this.
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 “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 a doctor at the hospital 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…