Some Thoughts on and Beyond Asymmetry, by Lisa Halliday


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I was so excited to share my purchases from Saturday’s bookstore trip that I completely forgot to tell you that I finally finished Becoming! I am happy I read it. I loved Michelle Obama’s voice and her approach to her life as a political spouse. I appreciated how she wanted to keep things in perspective for her family. Since I’ve already written two posts about the book, I’m going to stop there. The last thing I will say about it is that you should read it if you haven’t already!

Once I finished up Becoming, I was finally able to move on to one of the titles I borrowed from the library a few weeks ago: Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry. Based on what I’ve read about the book, I had certain expectations about the level of writing and the plot. And wow, did Halliday deliver some quality writing. Her sentences are thoughtfully written and beautifully crafted. Her characters are complex and yet somehow familiar. They feel like people I could have known or people I could be. I know she’s written short fiction before, but I am amazed that this is only her first novel.

That being said, this book stumped me a little. I knew from reviews that the plot was not straightforward, but I was prepared to figure it out as I read. I’m not sure I did. I think I see the points at which the three sections of the book meet, but I’m not confident. Maybe I’m not supposed to be, and perhaps that’s the point.

A lot of readers may be frustrated by a novel like this because it seems more like three novellas or stories in one. I think at one time, I would have been frustrated because it’s not straightforward. Over the years, I have gotten more patient with and more curious about experimental forms of writing and plot.

Maybe part of that patience comes from the fact that Halliday is a woman? This is something I’m going to have to process a bit more, but I think that most of the “non-standard” novels I’ve read have been written by men, and I often get annoyed with them.  I often find that they write books that are “out there” for the sake of being provocative, rather than focusing on creating a compelling narrative. Am I missing the women who are doing this? Or have readers traditionally given male writers more flexibility on how they can write?

These questions dominated my initial interest in this book, which was Halliday’s relationship with Philip Roth.  Based on what I know about it, their affair is somewhat reflected in the text, but I think this is indeed fiction and not a thinly veiled biography. In the end, the book as a whole, a thoughtful and well put together narrative, won out over gossip and speculation. I like how Halliday was able to use her own experiences as inspiration but made the story into something else entirely.

I may need to put this one on my “to reread” list. This is something I do when I enjoy a title or when I know I can get more out of it on a second read. With Asymmetry, it’s a little of both. I found each section to be full of delicious language that I wanted to pore over and savor. Moving from one part to the next jolted me out of my usual middle-of-the-novel complacency, which I liked. It’s definitely the type of book worthy of a reread.

Some thoughts on My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite


I underestimated the power of My Sister, the Serial Killer before I read it.  Its small size and flashy title led me to believe I was reading something light and “fun” (I use quotes because serial killers are not fun. And I say that as a lover of My Favorite Murder), but I was quickly convinced otherwise.  Braithwaite’s writing is clear and to the point, laying out exactly what happens with little metaphor, but simultaneously has many layers to strip back to get a full picture of the story.


Korede takes being a protective big sister to the next level.   I love my younger brother, but I cannot imagine myself covering for and cleaning up after him after he killed multiple people (sorry, bro, you’re on your own there).  Korede’s behavior was even more confusing to me once I learned more about her relationship with Ayoola and how the world treats them.  The blatant favoritism that everyone shows Ayoola was maddening to me, and I wanted to shake Korede for allowing it to happen. I think I was forgetting the power that internalized self-doubt or self-hatred can have on people, which is ridiculous because it is absolutely something I have allowed to get in my own way more than once.


This book reminded that women all over the world are judged by their looks and marital status, and it can be so easy to feel like a failure if you don’t achieve the expectations that others have set for you.  It infuriated me to see these sisters pitted against each other because one is considered beautiful and the other is not.  I’m having a hard time writing this, because it feels naïve and selfish to say that I needed a reminder of the struggles of women with different backgrounds than my own.  But I think that it can be easy to get stuck in your own bubble and forget that the problems you are feeling can often be universal.  I hope it’s not just me that feels this way.


When I read more about Korede and Ayoola’s childhood, the picture behind their relationship, and perhaps how they present themselves to the world, became clearer to me.  I am not a psychologist nor do I have any training in mental health care, but I know enough about childhood trauma to understand that it has powerful influences on you throughout your life.  I found myself sympathizing with, believe it or not, Ayoola the serial killer, wondering if this behavior was the result of childhood abuse and if she would have turned out this way had she gotten some professional support.  Meanwhile, Korede’s straight-laced albeit somewhat quirky personality becomes more and more bizarre as the story continues.  Her cleaning habits seemed like obsessive-compulsive disorder at first, but when I finished the book, I felt it was more than that.  Maybe it’s her way of compartmentalizing and dealing with stress.  Or perhaps she knows it’s one way she is helpful in a world that underappreciates her. Maybe it’s a little of both. Either way, I felt her priorities are skewed at the end as she maintains the status quo and allows Ayoola to continue her dangerous and lethal behavior.  It might be that the life she has now with her mother and sister is the only one she can imagine having.


Speaking of that life, there is a final thought I wanted to noodle on, and that is how Korede addresses those who work for her.  Her internal thoughts led me as the reader to believe that she considers herself to be above the other nurses and cleaners at the hospital.  What struck me as even more arrogant is that she never addresses the family’s maid, or house girl, by her first name.  Admittedly, I know nothing about Nigerian class structure, but it struck me as odd that I never learned this person’s name, even though she has a day-to-day role in Korede’s life.   I cannot figure out if this is the standard attitude for people of this class, or if Korede is so wrapped up in her own head and family situation that she can’t be bothered to use this person’s name.  If there is something I have learned in the Trump era, it is that just talking to someone from a different background can be an eye-opening experience that reminds you that we are all human, just trying to make things a little better for ourselves in this crazy world.  Maybe if Korede was able to think that way and connect with other people, especially the women, around her, she might not feel so isolated and forge a path beyond her family.

Some Thoughts on Go Set a Watchman and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

tree-46766_1280I chose to start the year with these two because I was lucky enough to get tickets to see the Broadway production of To Kill a Mockingbird in January.  Like most (okay, maybe all) American students, I had read Mockingbird in my eighth grade English class and truly did enjoy it.  When Go Set a Watchman came out a few years ago, I was hesitant like so many others because I had heard so many conflicting opinions of it.  But in an era where race is a constant (and necessary) topic to engage, and because I was going to see the play, I thought it was time to read them both together.  I am so glad I read Watchman first and To Kill a Mockingbird second.  It allowed me to get the painful part over with and then move on to the more enjoyable stuff!  Watchman is clunky and I really disliked the third person narration (which is weird, because I usually prefer it).  I think I just enjoyed Scout’s voice so much in Mockingbird that the later book did not live up to my expectations at all.

But going back to this small town in Alabama as an adult did remind me that discussions about race become so much more complicated as you get older.  As a child reading Mockingbird, Atticus was just doing the right thing by defending Tom.  But as an adult, it did seem like Atticus was conflicted about what his true motivations were, which Watchman does shed some light on.   As I have gotten older and explored more about race in this country, everything seems to become so much more complicated.  This book reminded me that I am not the only one who feels this way.

I was also so interested in the women in both of these books, which was so great given my goal for this year’s reading theme!  As a white woman, it was fascinating to read about the power that women do and do not have in this small Alabama town.  Mayella Ewell has zero power in her home life, and yet her race gives her so much power over Tom’s life.   But is that even her power, or is it white men using her to wield their own? Meanwhile, Scout rejects the town’s norms regarding femininity during childhood, eventually rejects the town altogether.  Her desire to leave town clearly has roots in her rejection of the blatant racism she encounters there, but I also see how it can be her desire to escape for the more traditional gender roles expected of her.  I enjoyed the reminder that women have been fighting to be themselves for a long time, and have gained a lot of momentum since the 1960’s.  Obviously, there is still a long way to go, and I’m looking forward to exploring that in future posts.