Book Review: My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike by Joyce Carol Oates.

 

My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike had me at hello its first two sentences:

“Dysfunctional families are all alike. Ditto ‘survivors.’

“Me, I’m the ‘surviving’ child of an infamous American family…”

My favourite book being a fictional account of the O.J. Simpson murder trial, Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne, I’m a sucker for true crime and conspiracy theories.

My Sister, My Love is the fictionalised account of the JonBenet Ramsey murder of Christmas 1996, a story that has captivated me since it hit the newsstands some fifteen years ago.

It is written by the awesome Joyce Carol Oates, whom I’ve never read in novel form before, but whose articles I have come across online. Since its publication in 2008, I’ve longed to read it, and serendipitously came across it in a secondhand bookstore earlier this year. It has taken me since then to read it!

But coming in at 562 pages, it’s not exactly light reading, both in size and subject matter.

The book focuses on the life of Skyler Rampike, brother to child ice-skating prodigy, Bliss Rampike (nee Edna Louise Rampike), and he and his parents’ struggle to come to terms with her murder.

The book is somewhat longwinded, but thoroughly enjoyable. Some parts before and after the murder could have been spared, but it’s all part of Oates’ effort to build the story and the characters within it.

The story is written from Skyler’s perspective, but switches rapidly from first- to second- to third-person narration, which can be jarring at first but ultimately lends itself to the insight we get into the twisted and troubled mind of Skyler.

Oates also borrows from other high-profile pop cultureisms, like the Simpson murder (Skyler’s boarding school for troubled/famous children girlfriend is most definitely supposed to be Simpson’s daughter), Wicked (“Popular! In America, what else matters?” [p. 152]), and The Catcher in the Rye, with Skyler calling faux snow “phony-looking” (p. 319). In fact, I think Oates’ key inspiration was probably J.D. Salinger’s most famous fictional outing.

It’s hard to separate the fictional Rampike family Oates has so expertly crafted from the real Ramsey family, which has fallen to pieces since JonBenet’s murder. As in real life, mother Betsey died, and father Bix remarried. But what do we know of Burke Ramsey, whom Skyler was based on? Nothing much.

And that’s where Oates saw an opening: to tell one of America’s most fascinating unsolved murders from the perspective of the person who, by a lot of peoples’ accounts, is the prime suspect.

Related: Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

Book Now, Bendigo.

Stacked.

It’s All About Popular… Lar, Lar, Lar, Lar.

The Ten Books I Wanted to Read This Year But Didn’t.

On the (Rest of the) Net: Jumbo Edition.

I didn’t realise I did so much reading this week, but the links below have proved me wrong. But it’s not even a drop in the ocean of the reading I still have left… Alas.

“… At what point along the line did we all decide that… what you weigh is the sum total of who you are?” [MamaMia]

11 ways to avoid being sexually assaulted. Remember, ladies: the onus is on you:

“Your default consent is ‘Yes’ until you say ‘No’. Not being able to say ‘No’, or not being able to remember if you said ‘No’, count as ‘Yes’. Saying ‘No’ also means ‘Yes’.” [Jezebel]

“Do Movie Characters Exist in a World Without Movie Stars?” [Sam Downing]

“Carbon Sunday”, as it has come to be known, “was a good day for Julia Gillard. It was the first good day she has had for a long time. She was strong, decisive and she was doing something really important. She looked like her old self. She was sure of what she was doing…. [That day] she really look[ed] like the Prime Minister because she ha[d] actually done something.” [MamaMia]

In other Prime Minister-related news, if you missed the profile on Gillard in The Weekend Australian a few weeks ago, here’s Sam Dusevic’s take on “Ju-Liar” “Gill-Hard Left’s” first year:

“I think she’s done nothing in her first year to foreclose on her ability in the next year to show authority which she inherently has the capability of showing,” Greens senator Bob Brown has said.

That was, until Sunday!

In praise of sleep. [Girl with a Satchel]

The shock jock. [Sydney Morning Herald]

Rachel Rabbit White on SlutWalk:

“Quiet Riot Girl (feminist blogger)… says ‘So some feminists believe all and any unsolicited /unwanted attention of women by men is “harassment”. Men have to wait to be asked/told to pay a woman any attention at all? Basically the Slutwalks are slutshaming hetero men.’

“How are men supposed to hit on women in public, talk to them or even ogle them? Because surely, ladies, we aren’t saying when we go out in a hot outfit we don’t want to be seen, or talked to by anyone.”

Confessions of a Cosmopolitan sex fact-checker. [Slate]

On the News of the World closure:

“It appears modern man fears media more than God.” [Girl with a Satchel]

To shave your pubes for cervical cancer, or not to shave your pubes for cervical cancer? That is the question that MamaMia and Jezebel are asking.

In defence of friendships with girls. [Persephone Magazine]

Do tradies get the short end of the street when it comes to cat-calling women on the street? [Bitch Magazine]

There’s more to Katie Price aka Jordan than meets the eye. [MamaMia]

“Period etiquette.” [Jezebel]

“The Myth of the Perfect Smile.” [Jezebel]

Is Blake Lively America’s frenemy? Is she the Rose Byrne in Bridesmaids to our national Kristen Wiig? … If she wants to broaden her appeal, she should try holding a kitten next time,” instead of more nude pics. [Grantland]

What is feminism? [The Ch!cktionary]

You know how some people get really depressed in winter? My mum is one of them. Well, it has been revealed that some people get really depressed in summer. I’m one of them. [Jezebel]

The “War of Words” we face when we put ourselves out there. [The Australian]

What do Lady Gaga and late night comedienne Chelsea Handler have in common? [Jezebel]

“Rolling in the Deep” dates. How listening to Adele could get you more dates. [Jezebel]

The “undermining of feminist sensibilities” in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. [Bitch Magazine]

“The Mental Burden of a Lower-Class Background.” [Jezebel]

What fascinates us so much about “The Murderous Side of Motherhood”?:

“But in some way, doesn’t the fact that a child is a mother’s ‘own flesh and blood’ mean that a primal part of us, as humans, understands the act of killing a child? Because if a child is made of your own flesh, then it is a part of you. An extension of yourself. Under your control. Operating under your agency, existing because you created it, and therefore yours to govern, manipulate, command, discipline, punish—and destroy.” [Jezebel]

“Celebrity Culture Makes Young Women Dumb.” [Jezebel]

Do plus-sized models encourage obesity? Velvet d’Amour, a plus-sized model herself, sets the record straight. [Frockwriter]

In the same vein, why are plus-sized models fetishised? [Jezebel]

Images via Jezebel, Kiss Me on the Lips, Frockwriter.

Bendigo Art Gallery: Giving the Metro Museums a Run for Their Money.

As past posts this week would indicate, I spent the weekend in Bendigo, in country Victoria. I visited some old friends, went secondhand book shopping, got my hair did, and attended the opening of the Bendigo Art Gallery’s American Dreams exhibition.

There were some stunning portraits by some of America’s most gifted and famous photographers, like Walker Evans, Cindy Sherman and Richard Avedon.

While this exhibition isn’t the greatest I’ve seen (FYI, that was The Golden Age of Couture, also hosted by the Bendigo Art Gallery, which displayed gorgeous garments from the likes of Christian Dior and his 1940s “New Look”, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Hubert de Givenchy and Pierre Balmain), it is one in a long line of coups for the country gallery.

Last year I saw Frederick McCubbin’s Last Impressions and Looking for Faeries, in addition to 2009’s Golden Age of Couture, and this year the gallery has The White Wedding Dress display in store for us. But the exhibition I’m most looking forward to won’t be opening until 2012, but it’s well worth the wait: Grace Kelly—Style Icon, featuring costumes from her most famous films (Rear Window, I’m looking at you) and couture gowns from her reign as Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco.

With stellar exhibitions like these, Melbourne’s galleries and museums had better watch out!

Related: Book Shop: Book Now, Bendigo.

Loving… Grace Kelly as Lisa Fremont in Rear Window.

Gustave Moreau’s The Eternal Feminine Exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Elsewhere: [Bendigo Art Gallery] Homepage.

[Bendigo Art Gallery] American Dreams: 20th Century Photography from George Eastman House.

[Bendigo Art Gallery] The Golden Age of Couture: Paris & London, 1947–1957.

[Bendigo Art Gallery] McCubbin Last Impressions: 1907–1917.

[Bendigo Art Gallery] Looking for Faeries: The Victorian Tradition.

[Bendigo Art Gallery] The White Wedding Dress: 200 Years of Wedding Fashions.

[Bendigo Art Gallery] Grace Kelly: Style Icon.

Images via Bendigo Art Gallery, Ethical Style.

Event: “Who the Bloody Hell Are We?”—The Sentimental Bloke at the Wheeler Centre.

I was so looking forward to “So Who the Bloody Hell Are We?: The Sentimental Bloke”, held on Monday night at the Wheeler Centre, which I attended with my staunchly feminist friend Laura (who has written for The Scarlett Woman here, and whom I’ve written abouthere) and staunchly MRA friend Andrew (who has also guest posted here and here).

I was rudely disappointed.

I expected the panel to delve into the masculinity crisis facing Australian men today by addressing such issues as rape culture in sport, domestic violence, metrosexuality and parenting. Well, three out of four ain’t bad.

I’m not the only one who felt that way, as Andrew Frank writes:

“I’ve got two words for you: Sarah Palin”—Dr. Anne Summers, AO.

I didn’t get it. Based on the participation rates of the laughter that followed, I don’t think half the audience did either.

Using a right wing American female politician to attempt to illustrate that there are no gender issues related to  men that hunt in contemporary Australia, only cultural ones, is using a form of logic that I can’t understand. But then again, she claims to be a feminist.

The setting was The Wheeler Centre, and the discussion loosely titled, “So Who the Bloody Hell Are We?: The Sentimental Bloke”. The presenter: Michael Cathcart. The panel was comprised of Craig Reucassel, founding editor of The Chaser newspaper and ABC television personality, Craig Sherborne, memoirist, poet and playwright, and Dr. Anne Summers AO, “best-selling author, journalist, and thought leader”. About that last one: I am worried.

Initially, the discussion promised to focus upon being a man, as individuals and as an ideal, in contemporary Australian society. This would include several aspects of particular relevance, such as parenting, the workplace, and various social settings. It would also examine the evolution of the ideals of masculinity, over the 20th century to the present. I was sadly disappointed.

After being egged on by Scarlett and Laura to “man up” [Early Bird note: I say that sarcastically; I strongly disagree with “man-up” as motivation to be courageous.], I decided to ask the question that plagued me from the start, and gets under my skin from time to time. My question went something like this:

“I am a very passionate hunter. I do it because I love it, not because I need to feel manlier. This is something for which I am socially criticized, in a manner that suggests I use it as a method of compensation for feelings of being emasculated. Do any of you perceive any distinction between the social pressures placed on men of decades past to be the stiff-upper-lipped, emotionally suppressed and distant figure, and the social pressures contemporary Australian men are subject to in terms of being ‘metrosexual’ or the ‘Sensitive New Age Guy’?”

I missed Sherborne’s reaction, but Reucassel mocked hunting as an activity for the royal family {unbeknownst to him, I also fence!). Dr Anne Summers, screwed up her face and said, “Between being a SNAG and hunting?” in as condescending a tone as you can imagine.

It was asked that the microphone be returned to me. Reucassel asked me how I started hunting. I replied that it came to me through my Dad, and my Dad’s Dad. I then turned my attention to Summers again and stated that the hunting’s relevance here rested in the fact that according to my friends, hunting and masculinity were, for the distant father figure, and are, now, according to my friends, inextricably intertwined. It is the quintessential example of men today not conforming to the metrosexual, SNAG criteria.

Reucassel then said that the idea of hunting abhors him; that It is definitely an antiquated recreation, but it takes bravery to pursue in light of contemporary attitudes and if I want to, then more power to me. I respect his viewpoint. I would never force someone to hunt who didn’t want to, and he reflects my right to be autonomous in deciding where I get my food. But he missed the vital issue: is there a difference between my social pressure not to hunt and the social pressure on men from decades past to be emotionally restrained?

Insert Summers’ initial right-winged impression here, to which I didn’t get another chance to respond.

Sarah Palin hunts. I think Summers was trying to say that dealing with the bad rap that being a hunter carries is not specifically a male problem. And in that single fact, she is correct. So therefore, the issue faced here by hunters is not gendered, but cultural. However, to go so far as to imply that because Palin hunts, the social criticism of male Australian hunters—or indeed other men who engage in traditionally masculine recreational activities—does not warrant discussion is a fallacy. I believe that is what she intended to say. And soon after it became apparent from the comments of Cathcart and Sherborne that they believed she had jumped on the “cultural, not gendered” tack as well. However, because I did not warrant a detailed response, evidenced in hindsight by her curt reply and insulting tone, we cannot be sure. Perhaps she meant to say that Palin is an idiot, and therefore, all hunters are. But I shall continue through with the interpretation that Laura helped me conclude.

If we accept the premise of Summers, any criticism of my masculinity with hunting as evidence is blatantly flawed. Speaking regarding men in contemporary society, Summers has decided that the social reality is… wrong? Because a number of women engage in hunting, including the prominent Palin, they must be subject to exactly the same social criticisms that the men who engage in this statistically dominated male activity, right? If we accept this, Summers did not respond to me, as she intended. She responded to those that undermine the masculinity of Australian male hunters. Undermining my “masculinity in the metrosexual sense” because I hunt is wrong because women hunt, too. Unfortunately for her, your average person that rips on a hunter seems unaware of the tradition that hunting is a male thing. By the way: I hate that tradition. I really, really do.

On that count, any person seeking a discourse regarding being a man in contemporary Australia rather than trying to fulfill a feminist agenda would disagree. It’s like saying because both men and women are in the police force they obviously have precisely the same experience—I would have loved to get her started on that one pertaining to rape cases. If the topic for the evening had been, “The Sentimental Bloke and the Empowered Woman: Being a Man, Or a Woman, in Contemporary Society”, then perhaps it would have been a valid vein of thought. But could anyone really think that her premise was not flimsy and tenuous? She, too, missed the point: attempting to discern the differences and similarities of social pressure on males not to hunt and the social pressure on men from decades past to be emotionally restrained.

Discussion that followed pigeonholed me into the “shooter” stereotype as if I wasn’t even there. I won’t forget for a long time the sneer in her voice: “He’s a shooter”. I despise hoons that are hunters according to external perception, blazing through the bush with a beer in one hand and a gun in the other. Summers was perfectly willing to condemn me using a stereotype to which I do not conform. This after using a prominent female American politician, a single example, to attempt to nullify two gendered stereotypes and the resulting social pressures of two different eras that I wished to contrast. Yeah, that woman totally understood the topic for the evening. She is sooo smart! And yes, I’m bitter I didn’t get to verbally tear her to shreds.

The presenter, in my opinion, then made an awful mistake. Cathcart asked the panel, “Have any of you killed a mammal, and eaten it?” I think this was asked with the goal of illustrating the cultural differences between the contemporary and past societies in which hunters and men have existed. This wandered further still from the vital issue, as whether or not someone has killed an animal they have eaten and whether or not hunting is ethical does not address the relevant gendered issues. Reucassel said no, and then admitted to being a meat eater which, he realised, weakened his argument. Sherborne said yes, and told stories of how he grew up on a farm. Summers said no, and her admission to being a meat eater was accompanied with a bowed head.

In order to further display her tight grasp on the issues that were, but should not have been at hand, I remember Sherborne raising the following issue, when asked if he himself has ever hunted:

Sherborne: “Is fishing hunting?”

Summers: “No.”

Cathcart: “Why not?”

Summers: “I don’t know”

Cathcart ended that portion of the discussion with, “Well, I don’t know if we answered your question, but they certainly had fun ridiculing you”.

Subsequent audience questions referred to mine. They tried again to get at my “underlying question.” As far as I could tell, no such luck. My spirits were buoyed somewhat as I exited the room, as I heard the word hunting on the lips of four or five people, was complimented by a few others, and heard several chide the panel’s incorrect interpretation and inadequate response to my questioning. Walking down the street five minutes later I fortuitously heard an elderly couple discussing the exact same issue, and they could not have approved of my thoughts more.

Perhaps my motivation to have written all this down rests in the fact that I wanted answers—validation—and I didn’t get any. I am a hunter. I am also a kind, caring and sensitive man, who fully acknowledges the depths of his emotion wherever possible. I even have passing interests in skin care from time to time. The people on the stage were supposed to confirm my belief that pressures on me to be the latter (SNAG) are directly related to pressures not to be the former (strong, silent and conventionally “masculine”), and that the same situation with different polarities existed for men decades ago. Or, they were supposed to admonish this point of view, and provide me with enlightenment such that I could embrace my modern masculinity as the sensitive young man and the hunter with no sense of conflict.

But they didn’t. Aspects of life difficult for the contemporary sentimental bloke didn’t exist for every sentimental bloke. Consequently they were considered circumstantial and did not warrant discussion. Or difficulties that didn’t apply only for men, as women suffered similarly, meant that they did not warrant discussion. Or difficulties founded in culture were dealt with in a manner that suggested their gendered implications were irrelevant. Honestly, the only issue duly treated, was the evolution of male parents who now change nappies and push prams, juxtaposed against past male parents who would only pace outside the birthing room then work to support the child, occasionally throwing in a life lesson. Everything else was glossed over in a cursory fashion, played way, way down, or even straight out denied, suggesting that none of the panel members were prepared to really get their hands dirty and discuss issues that contemporary Australian men deal with in defining who and what we are. After all, even though the title of the event was “So Who the Bloody Hell Are We?: The Sentimental Bloke” it just wouldn’t be fair to deal with the impact issues have on men when they also effect women, would it?

Related: How to Make a Woman Fall in Love with You, Glee Style.

Double Standards.

On Stripping.

Unfinished Business at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Images via The Wheeler Centre, Indie Posted.

Born This Way.

 

From “If We’re Born Gay, How Would We Know?” by Lisa Wade on Jezebel:

“It is a specifically American belief that gay men act feminine and lesbians act masculine.  But, in fact, gay men and lesbians have a wide range of gender performances, as do straight and bisexual people.  In fact, most of us could probably find a picture or two in our histories showing gender non-conformity.  Meanwhile, most gay men and lesbians could probably find pictures of themselves conforming.  That gender performance is associated with sexual orientation in our society is a belief in U.S. culture, but it’s not somehow inevitable or biological.”

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] If We’re Born Gay, How Would We Know?

Images via YouTube.

Magazine Review: The Big Issue, 1–14 March, 2011.

Did you know that there are approximately 7.5 readers for every copy of The Big Issue sold? Which is great for circulating The Big Issue’s content to different kinds of readers, it sucks for the people selling copies out the front of The Body Shop (where I was first exposed to the magazine in my hometown of Bendigo in country Victoria) or at Parliament train station, where I picked up this week’s copy.

But when I read those stats on Girl with a Satchel a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t surprised. A colleague of mine usually brings in his copy to the staff lunchroom, which makes the rounds at work. He’s gone overseas for a few weeks, so I decided to be the one to provide the communal Big Issue during that time. I do hope that more people will fork out the fortnightly five bucks it costs to be exposed to some great Australian writing (“compared with $4.70 for your weekly copy of Who) but until then, I can take solace in the fact that I did my bit.

There’s still a week left to get your paws on a copy, and I suggest you do, as there are some great articles in there, a lot of them dealing with the social revolution tool that is Twitter, which features on the cover. And for you us pop-culture junkies, there’s Liz and Shane and their Twitter antics, too:

“Celebrities, meanwhile, have embraced Twitter as an opportunity to prove their Everyman concerns without having to directly engage with, well, every man or woman. Kourtney Kardashian, for example, recently tweeted her two-million followers: ‘Does anyone else get scared that being on their phones too much or sleeping with your phone near u is so bad? Or am I paranoid?’ I wonder how many fruitlessly replied, ‘Omg, I totes have a brain tumour! We should be BFFs!’ (Note to tweenie Tweeters: she couldn’t care less.)” (p. 15).

You’re such a visionary, Kourtney!

On a more serious note, editor Alan Attwood writes of the similarly prophetic Steven Johnson from Time magazine, who wrote ‘How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live’:

“He argued that all those tiny tweets add up ‘to something truly substantive, like a suspension bridge made of pebbles’. He concluded: ‘The weather reports keep announcing that the sky is falling, but here we are—millions of us—sitting around trying to invent new ways to talk to one another.’ And that, surely, can’t be a bad thing” (p. 4).

We’ve read all the articles about Twitter being a valuable tool for social change, particularly in Egypt, and there’s no shortage of that in the feature article, from which the above Kardashian quote is garnered. Worth the $5 cover price for this article alone.

Another article I loved this fortnight was Patrick Witton’s on “Sharing the Load” of the hellish daily commute.

I wrote last week about two friends of mine who spend at least two hours in their car getting to and from work each day, which sounds like my worst nightmare. Sure, I used to travel upwards of four hours to work from my aforementioned hometown, but that was on the train, where I could get valuable reading, sleeping and daydreaming done. Driving to work allows the driver to indulge in (hopefully) only one of those activities. Then again, I don’t have a license, so I have no idea how much daydreaming gridlock allows…

Witton profiles the car-pooling phenomenon in America, where there are designated pick-up and drop-off points, between which complete strangers ride in silence, and drivers take advantage of the express car-pool lanes. Like a bus, but without the mentally disturbed drunk espousing the apocalypse.

There’s also the teenagers in Jakarta, who make a living from hitchhiking along the highways, getting paid to be picked up so solitary drivers can hightail it to work in the express lane.

Fascinating stuff.

Elsewhere: [Girl with a Satchel] The Big Issue Blitzes Readership Survey (But are Aussies Being Tight?)

On the (Rest of the) Net: Jumbo Edition.

After last weeks flat effort, On the (Rest of the) Net is back in fine form, with a bumper edition.

“Reading About ‘It’ Girls Makes Me Feel Like a Shit Girl”: The title alone is worth the read, but Rachel Hills raises some interesting points, as always.

You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. Luckily, my housemate is both a friend and relative and, while it’s still early days, thank God our relationship is a tad more functional than those expressed in this flow chart.

Frequent trips to the video store when I was younger means I’m privy to some of the best so-bad-they’re-good flicks of the late ’80s and early ’90s that not many others my age were. Teen Witch, Girls Just Want to Have Fun and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead spring to mind, the latter of which has a “surprisingly serious” message behind it.

The Sunday Times Magazine ran with a story on “Lady Gaga & the Death of Sex”. Unfortunately, you have to pay to read the whole thing, but here’s a snippet. Hopefully an Australian mag picks up the story…

More Gala Darling wisdom. (Speaking of wisdom, I’m getting my wisdom teeth pulled today, so wish me luck!)

Jezebel asks (borrowing a direct headline from an Indian newspaper), “Should a Woman Marry Her Rapist?”

All the hullabaloo surrounding Christina Hendricks’ bangin’ body means she’s “gone from poster child for the supposed comeback of curves to practically a stock photo for any story about bodies.” Sure, “we can all agree that Hendricks is pretty fucking hot from head to toe,” but “Hendricks still fits the Hollywood ideal of beauty in most ways.”

I loved seeing all of Jenna Templeton’s pics from her recent trip to Melbourne on My Life as a Magazine. Love, love, love the store Harem on Brunswick Street, and so does she!

God help us! I didn’t think you could get any worse than Sarah Palin when it comes to female Republicans, but apparently you can. Jezebel runs a piece on “the new Republican candidate for Senate in Delaware”, Christine O’Donnell. A bit of background: “She is a devout Catholic, chaste, anti-masturbation, pro-abstinence-only sex ed, anti-condoms and anti-porn.” But what I find most conflicting about her stance is that “There’s only truth and not truth… You’re either very good or evil.” We’re all going to hell, then!

Tavi Gevinson gives her take on “Kinderwhore Britney” on the cover of Japanese magazine Pop: “These covers shock us because, even though this is how we’ve been used to seeing Britney Spears throughout her entire career, she’s finally the one to comment on our culture’s disturbing obsession with her.”

In a similar vein, Julian Abagond at Sociological Images wants to know “Why Do the Japanese Draw Themselves as White?” Well, “as it turns out, that is an American opinion, not a Japanese one. The Japanese see anime characters as being Japanese. It is Americans who think they are white. Why? Because to them white is the Default Human Being.”