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Archive for the ‘family dynamics’ Tag

Murder Family Style   3 comments

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My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite is both engaging and unnerving. The writing accounts for the former and the subject, which the title clearly reflects, explains the latter.

Korede is the good sister. She’s older, responsible and works as a nurse. She is single but is attracted to a doctor with whom she is friends. Her looks are considered plain. Meanwhile, her sister, Ayoola, is beautiful, flippant and kills off the men she dates. She relies on Korede to, literally, clean up the mess.

Yet, Ayoola’s most recent – the third — murder leaves her sister filled with guilt. She begins to worry that the same fate will befall the doctor who has succumbed to Ayoola’s charms.

In addition to the deaths, which for the most part warrant little attention from the police, the narrative explores the sisters’ relationship with their father. He’s an abusive, powerful man, whose character is portrayed in the past tense. The more that’s shared about him, the more one has to wonder how he died, particularly given Ayoola’s penchant for murder.

Braithwaite’s novel is about the strength of sisterly love, no matter how misguided, and the way in which dreams can be so easily burst in the name of loyalty. Short chapters and the terse vivid writing make this a fast read. The characters are easily imagined and a range of emotions, from sympathy to disappointment, is evoked.  It’s clear from the beginning that Ayoola isn’t good; the real surprise comes from Korede.

 

My Sister, the Serial Killer

Four Bookmarks

Doubleday, 2018

226 pages

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Get Lost   Leave a comment

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Watch Me Disappear is disappointing. Sorry. There’s no hemming and hawing on this one. Yet, I read all 300-plus pages waiting for some redeeming elements. Some surfaced only to quickly fade. It wasn’t exactly a slog, but it was far from a nice walk in the woods.

There is a hike, though; at least references to one, which is part of the story.

Jonathan and Billie Flanagan, with Olive their 16-year-old daughter, live in Berkeley. By all appearances they’re a happy family. He’s a workaholic for a hi-tech publication, Billie is an out-doorsy bon vivant, stay-at-home mom occasional graphic designer with a past, of course. Olive is a bright introvert at a private school.

The narrative follows the grief-stricken father and daughter dealing with the presumed-dead Billie who, nearly a year earlier, goes missing while on a solo backpacking trek on a section of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Jonathan quits his job to write a memoir about Billie, the love of his life. Interspersed among the chapters are pages Jonathan has written. They reveal as much about him as about Billie. Meanwhile, Olive begins having visions of her mother offering hints as to her possible whereabouts. Thus, the two begin separate searches to find the missing woman.

Part of the problem with Janelle Brown’s novel is that it’s predictable; the few surprises are just that, too few. It doesn’t help that Olive is the only appealing character or that the ending – and this reveals nothing – is very tidy.

Watch Me Disappear
Two-and-a-half Bookmarks
Spiegel & Grau, 2017
358 pages

Men Will Be Boys   Leave a comment

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My sons are in their twenties and I still refer to them as the boys. It’s not so unusual, then, that Elizabeth Strout’s latest novel since her Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kittridge identifies the 50-something protagonist brothers as The Burgess Boys. Yet, it’s unsettling that they are such poorly matured men.

The backstory of Bob being accidently responsible for his father’s death is almost a character unto itself. This aspect of the novel emerges slowly and evolves, just as everyone else does, providing an especially interesting angle.

Jim is the older brother, the successful, high-achieving one. Bob, on the other hand, is less driven, and far more endearing. He rarely grows weary of Jim’s disparagements toward him, although reading them is tiresome. The boys left their childhood home in Maine years ago to pursue their lives in New York City. Jim is a hot-shot lawyer and Bob, also a lawyer, serves a different clientele. They receive word from their perpetually-unhappy sister (Bob’s twin) in rural Maine that her son is charged with a hate crime. This is the driving narrative, but that backstory is never far behind.

Strout has created a novel full of multiple layers, but not different versions. She provides snapshots of what happens in real life. Some are faded, some in black and white. The characters are heartbreaking in their deception, confusions and naiveté. Unlike Olive Kittridge which was a collection of connections among its characters, The Burgess Boys focuses on a family’s past and present, along with its shortcomings.

 The Burgess Boys
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Random House, 2013
337 pages