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.

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

Again, I don’t do New Years resolutions, but hopefully in listing the books I didn’t get around to reading in 2010 in a public forum where reviews are commonplace (um, this blog, for those of you not keeping track), I’ll be forced to devour in 2011.

1. Countdown to Lockdown by Mick Foley. I’ve been very vocal about my love for Mick Foley in recent months, and I was lucky enough to receive his latest memoir (number four, but who’s counting?) for my birthday, two months ago. I’ve been eagerly anticipating having enough time to dive into it headfirst, and I’m hoping it’ll be the first I check off my list this coming year.

2. Fragments by Marilyn Monroe, Bernard Comment & Stanley Buchthal. I love Marilyn Monroe, both as an icon (though I wouldn’t go as far as to have her image tattooed on me, à la Megan Fox), and as a fascinating person who had many layers, some of which are peeled away with the release of this book. This is a high priority read.

3. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. I loved Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Lady & the Unicorn, so something tells me I’m going to love Remarkable Creatures, about two female fossil hunters in 19th century England. The subject matter is a bit left-of-centre for historical fiction, but it appeals to me nonetheless. I know I couple of friends who own copies of this book, so maybe I can bum a lend…?

4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I have a tendency to build classics up in my mind before I’ve read them, and I’m then sorely disappointed. I have a feeling a similar effect will occur with The Great Gatsby, which I became interested in reading when I heard that it will be subjected to a movie remake at the hands of Baz Lurhmann. So bogan-esque, I know!

5. I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley. Crosley’s books have done the review rounds in some of my favourite and trusted mags, like Yen and Cleo, with nothing but good vibrations about her collection of essays.

6. How Did You Get This Number? by Sloane Crosley. Yes, this is Crosley’s second appearance on the list, but all the buzz surrounding her books and her clever, witty and sometimes snarky tone means I can’t wait to gobble them up!

7. The Genius & the Goddess: Arthur Miller & Marilyn Monroe by Jeffrey Meyer. I read a review of this tome earlier in the year, and it has stayed with me since. Most intriguingly, the book “houses an appendix detailing the illnesses and operations” Monroe had throughout her life.

8. The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper by Dominick Dunne. I can’t get me enough of Dominick Dunne, so it’s a surpriseeven to methat I haven’t read all of his books yet. This one is somewhat of an official memoir, as a lot of his fictional works blur the line between reality and fiction, Another City, Not My Own especially.

9. The Life & Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O’Hagan. In case you were wondering, I plan to do a lot of Monroe-related reading in 2011. This is one of the more imaginative books about her life.

10. The Prince, The Showgirl & Me and My Week with Marilyn by Colin Clarke. Both are the basis for the new Michelle Williams effort, My Week with Marilyn. Just while we’re on that, I’d like to sneak in another Monroe-inspired fiction: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates, which another biopic starring Naomi Watts as Monroe is based on. Perhaps if I had picked up the copy I always see at my favourite second-hand bookstore, Bendigo Book Mark, it would have given me more incentive to read it. No, wait, that doesn’t work for the numerous other books I’ve got sitting there, just begging to be read…

Related: In Appreciation of Mick Foley.

The Witching Hour: Halloween/My Birthday at Witches in Britches Cabaret.

All Eyes on Marilyn.

Things Bogans Like.

Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

Elsewhere: [Bookslut] Genius, Goddess: Reading Theatre.

[Bendigo Book Mark] Homepage.

Great Expectations

In otherand final, for this week at leastworkaholics news, from The New Yorker’s Book Bench, “there’s no point in worrying about all those books you haven’t gotten to yet, because very often our preconceived idea of what a book will be is just as valid and enlightening as the book itself might be.”

So do bookworms rejoice in the fact that there’s no need to get through our stacks of unread books (personally, I have The Babysitters Club, American Psycho, a second reading of Mia Freedman’s memoir, Mama Mia, and Hollywood Ending by Kathy Charlesto get througha well balanced literary meal, if a little too heavy on the fluff, don’t you think?); that the very idea of what they’re like will sustain our literary appetites?

I understand what author Kristy Logan’s original hypothesis is attesting to, that sometimes “an unread book is an intoxicating, romantic thing, and the act of reading is, in one sense, destructive” to what could have been, however I don’t agree with it.

Fiercely loyal, I will not put a book down until the very last page, no matter how much of a struggle it was to read. Dr. Zhivago, I’m looking at you. I had great expectations for that book, however I was brutally disappointed. Bret Easton Ellis’ Glamorama is another one that comes to mind. I do feel like by reading these books, my fantastical idea of them before I turned their pages has been knocked out of me.

On the other hand, there’s nothing like being utterly surprised by how good a book is, and how profoundly it affects you. Frequent readers of this blog will know that Another City, Not My Own is that for me. The Lovely Bones is one I was pleasantly surprised about, (at the risk of sounding like a bogan) only reading it because I wanted to see the film. While I think the ending was utter bullshit, the integrity of the rest of the story outweighs the disappointing ending for me.

Logan assures us that she doesn’t encourage leaving “all books unread”, questioning whether she should call them “‘pre-read’ books instead”.

The excitement of a “pre-read book”? Now that I can understand.

Related: Things Bogans Like.

Elsewhere: [The New Yorker] Not Enough Time.

[The Millions] Confined by Pages: The Joy of Unread Books.

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

Two weeks ago I reviewed the lacklustre The Mansions of Limbo by Dominick Dunne. But as my favourite author, Dunne can do no wrong in my eyes. This time around, I’m reviewing the book that changed my life, Another City, Not My Own.

There’s nothing in particular that makes it a life changing book for probably anyone other than myself, but after I’d read it, there was no going back. I picked up the “novel in the form of a memoir” in mid 2009 after reading O.J. Simpson’s confessional, If I Did It. I had become fascinated and obsessed with the case, and Dunne’s commentary in the afterword was my first encounter with the famous name dropper.

I’m sure I Wikied him, as I do all new authors and books I come across to better familiarise myself with their writing and whether I want to commit to a book by them, and found out that Dunne was a Hollywood producer whose drug and alcohol fuelled lifestyle caused his wife to divorced him and the industry to shun him. Dunne became a recluse, penning his first New York Times Bestseller, The Winners, in a cabin in Oregon.

The murder of his daughter, Poltergeist star Dominique Dunne, and the subsequent “slap on the wrist” her killerand boyfriendreceived drew Dunne out of the woodwork and into the public glare once again. He became an advocate for victims rights and justice brought against rich and famous offenders, covering such high-profile cases as the trial of Claus von Bülow, charged with attempted murder as his estranged wife Sunny lay in a vegetative state after an alleged insulin overdose; Kennedy relatives Michael Skakel and William Kennedy Smith, serving time for the murder of teenage neighbour Martha Moxley (on which the 1993 novel, A Season in Purgatory, is based) and acquitted of rape charges, respectively; the Menedez murders; and, of course, the O.J. Simpson trial, for Vanity Fair. I could not get enough of his storied history and fascinating accounts of the dark side of Hollywood.

While I have only read a small sampling of Dunne’s published books, as they are quite hard to get a hold of, I just knew from the first self-deprecating paragraphs denouncing his credibility as a crime reporter and mention of the notorious footballer cum alleged murderer cum black hero O.J., as with all good books, that this was going to be one to remember.

Another City, Not My Own chronicles Dunne’s alter ego Gus Bailey’s return from New York back to the city that ruined his life, Los Angeles, for the murder trial of O.J. Simpson. It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s fictionalised (Dunne’s real son Griffin is now Bailey’s son Grafton; A Season in Purgatory is the narrator’s book-turned-miniseries), and such famous names as Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, the Spellings, Michael Jackson and Heidi Fleiss make guest appearances, if only in the form of dinner table gossip fodder. In addition, the larger-than-life main players, O.J., Nicole Brown Simpson, the Goldman family, Kim, Khloe and Kourtney’s dead daddy Robert Kardashian, pool boy Kato Kaelin, racist cop Mark Furhman, Nicole’s drug addicted friend, Faye Resnick, and super-lawyers, prosecutor Marcia Clark, and the arrogant Johnnie Cochran for the defence, make Another City, Not My Own read like a salacious gossip mag or blockbuster movie.

This book boats a twist, turn and pop culture reference on every page, making your eyes race to keep up as your mind tries to savour the action, because once you’ve read the shock ending, which links to another high profile ’90s murder, there’s no going back.

Related: The Mansions of Limbo by Dominick Dunne Review.