I wonder where she keeps the knife. I never come across it, except in those moments when I am looking down at the bleeding body before me, and sometimes I don't even see it then. For some reason, I cannot imagine her resorting to stabbing if that particular knife were not in her hand; almost as if it were the knife and not her that was doing the killing.
It's misleading to call Braithwaite's debut "a mystery," or "a thriller." There's not much mystery here. The book's title reveals the identity of the killer and the strange tale evolves to be more hilarious than heartbreaking. Sure, the story is dark. Braithwaite, who is from Nigeria and currently lives in Lagos, spins a tale of blood and guts and really, really big knives. But more importantly, she describes a pair of sisters who will do anything to protect one another from the neighborhood's shallow suitors. The youngest and most traditionally beautiful sister, Ayoola, has the awkward habit of murdering her boyfriends when she tires of them. Korede, Ayoola's older sister, only hopes to keep her sister out of jail in the aftermath of these slashings. The first few chapters describe Korede hunched over, scrubbing blood off Ayoola's white, bathroom tiles. Sounds gloomy, I know, but Braithwaite somehow makes the story mostly funny. My Sister, the Serial Killer is short (it's almost skeletal) and you can read it in one or two sittings. I generally appreciate this type of deliberately thin novel, but there's just not enough space here for Braithwaite to deeply develop her characters. Perhaps I'm just greedy and wanted the story to last longer. So much good fiction coming out of Nigeria this year (and probably every year, but I'm especially excited about this year).
Last week I was in the mood for a fluffy, thick mystery. I'm not entirely sure why. Perhaps it's because I've been reading lots of applications lately, and those feel mostly serious. I wanted to lose myself in pages of secret passageways, abandoned summer homes, lurking strangers, and missing children. Kate Morton's The Lake House was the perfect choice for this mood. Reading it was more like watching TV and less like reading a book (definitely the closest I've come to a Netflix binge with reading). It's a lengthy novel (weighing in at just under 500 pages), but it's a total page turner. Almost every chapter ends with some type of cliff hanger that makes you want to stay up way past bedtime for "just one more chapter." I felt like an eight year old again, opting to read by flashlight when adults made me turn the lights out.
I was planning to give The Lake House four stars until the very end. I docked it half a star for the far too convenient ending (it was way too neat to be convincing) and then rounded down to three stars. There's an argument to be made that I should have rounded this up to four stars, but then again, three stars felt right here. I really liked The Lake House though. Definitely not my last Kate Morton.
There's not much sunlight in Minnesota right now. We wake up in the dark and drive home from work in the dark. The hours in between are grey. Not my favorite time of year. I just finished Elliot Ackerman's National Book Award Finalist, Waiting for Eden. It is similarly dark. You can read it in one or two sittings. There are only three significant characters in the book: Eden (an American solider burned beyond recognition in Iraq), his wife Mary, and an omniscient narrator (Eden's dead friend from the war). Eden and Mary also have a young daughter, Andy (the story of Andy's conception is a main story line here). In the opening pages, we learn that Eden has lived the past three years in a hospital burn unit, entirely unable to communicate. The nurses refer to him in hushed tones as "the worst wounded guy in both wars." He is less than half his original body weight and has lost everything below the torso ("No one knows what to call him, except for Mary. She calls him her husband"). Suddenly, as a result of a stroke, Eden regains the ability to communicate with people through a simple clicking of his jaw. Ackerman forces the reader to reckon with some big questions here: Who decides how much suffering is too much? What are a woman's obligations to a husband in this type of emotional and physical distress? Can extreme physical debilitation ever be reason enough to end a life? Is the ability to communicate simple desires and needs to loved ones reason enough to stay alive? Waiting for Eden is more than just a story of war. It's also a tale of marriage. The book opens with a discussion about Mary, Eden's wife: "I want you to understand Mary and what she did. But I don't know if you will. You've got to wonder if you'd make the same choice, circumstances being similar." This is a book about parenthood, spousal loyalty, patience, and sacrifice. I'm not someone who particularly likes war literature, but I really enjoyed this.
With the exception of a short run, I did not get off the couch on Saturday. It was snowy and I wanted to finish Diana Evans' new book. The snow has stopped and I finished the book, so I've made the two mile trek to Sun Street Breads (I haven't exhausted the grilled cheese options in Minneapolis yet, but this one is hard to beat).
You've probably heard John Legend's song "Ordinary People" (if you haven't, watch the music video above before you read this review). It's a love song, of sorts, and describes couples with young children who are "past the infatuation stage, in the thick of love." According to Legend and Evans, this part of marriage involves a lot of fighting, forgiving, and then more fighting (all while trying to grow healthy, small humans in the house). Evans tells the story of two struggling couples, both African-American and living in London with young children. Love exists in both these relationships. Regardless, there's anger and hurt and words children should never hear. The main characters in the book, Melissa and Michael, have been together for over a decade and have just had their second child. As the children grow older, the romance sours. Far after bedtime, the little ones sneak into the stairwell and listen to grown-ups scream and break things. Evans and Legend both hint at the importance of forgiveness, though, and argue that real love can rise above this domestic strife. So the book, and the song, do end up as kind of love stories.
Ordinary People received mixed reviews on Goodreads, which doesn't surprise me. Many readers don't take well to plodding, detailed accounts of family or relationship drama (we saw this reflected in the reviews of Elif Batuman's The Idiot as well). With Evans' ability to sharply dissect domestic discord, she reminds me of Franzen and Eugenides. Forgive me for comparing this black woman to two white men, but there are some similarities in style here. I loved this book and contemplated giving it five stars. For some reason, four feels right.