Oyinkan Braithwaite’s Lethal Feminine Fiction

Female black widow spiders are known to cannibalize their mates, a tendency that has turned the deadly arachnid into a pop-cultural mainstay. Oyinkan Braithwaite once wrote a poem about the eight-legged creature. Its lethal feminine power has permeated the 30-year-old Nigerian author’s stories ever since, including the homicidal tale at the heart of her darkly clever debut novel, My Sister, the Serial Killer. Set in Lagos, Braithwaite’s hometown, My Sister follows Korede, a young nurse cleaning up after her younger sibling, who has taken to killing the boyfriends that get caught in her web. The preferred murder weapon is a knife that belonged to the sisters’ abusive dead father. Braithwaite found the inspiration for her audacious plot in an unexpected source. “Anime is what gave me confidence, because it plays with some really ridiculous concepts and yet manages to make them work,” she says. “I knew this idea would be fun to read, but it could still have a deeper message.”

The writer acknowledges being drawn to depictions of “strong women” who can be anything they want, even killers. She also favors plots that back her characters into disturbing corners, a subject that has interested her from early on. She recalls two stories she wrote in primary school that were, according to her, a “cause of huge concern to my parents.” One is written from the perspective of a forest, which watches a girl enter it and kill herself. In the other, a young woman is committed to a psych ward because she has a friend whom no one else can see. “I try to out-write myself,” Braithwaite explains of her process. “I try to do it quickly enough that I’ll almost be near the end before I think, ‘Oh, my gosh, what on earth are you doing?’”