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.

Book Shop: Book Now, Bendigo.

So this review was originally going to be about Bendigo’s Book Mark, which still remains the best secondhand book store I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.

Such gems I’ve managed to find there are Mick Foley’s rare first novel, Tietam Brown, and a $7 copy of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk. I scoured the shelves for over an hour looking for that one. When I took it to the counter, the man who served me marveled at it being left on the shelves; he’d put all Jackson-related literature on their website to be sold at an elevated price after his sudden death.

But perhaps my friend Hannah and I left it too late on a Saturday afternoon to visit the shop: they close at 4pm and we got there at 4:05!

So we decided instead to venture over to Book Now, located at 1 Farmers Lane, opposite Rosiland Park. There’s no denying I’ve gotten some good titles there before—a first edition of The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving springs to mind—but I find it a bit stuffy and overpriced for a secondhand book store.

However, this weekend’s trip yielded some fantastic finds for both me and Hannah. Hannah is studying to be a doctor in Russian history and social sciences, so she took home a book on Nicholas II of Russia, and his wife Alexandra Fyodorovna, parents of Anastasia of Russia, and Atonement by Ian McEwan.

I knew Book Now has a large collection of Joyce Carol Oates books, so I rummaged through them in the vain hope of finding My Sister, My Love, a recent novel based on the JonBenet Ramsey murder. And low and behold, I did find it resting on a shelf right up the back of the shop.

My Book Now trip was pretty much complete after that, however I did spot some Armistead Maupin titles, and picked up a few of those. (To be honest, I own so many of his books I wasn’t 100% sure that I don’t already own The Night Listener and Maybe the Moon. But at $6 a pop, who am I to complain if I do?!) Finally, I stumbled across Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth and decided to add that to my ever-growing pile.

So what began as a somewhat disappointing afternoon when Book Mark wasn’t open, ended as a surprisingly great one, with four new additions to my bookshelf.

Bendigo only has a few really good bookstores, so if you’re ever up in Central Victoria, visiting the Bendigo Art Gallery (stay tuned for more this afternoon) or the Golden Dragon Chinese Museum, pop on over to Book Now or Book Mark.

I know I will on my next visit.

Related: Evolution of the Bookshop at the Wheeler Centre.

In Appreciation of Mick Foley.

The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving Review.

Is There Really a Beauty Myth?

Armistead Maupin in Conversation with Noni Hazlehurst.

Elsewhere: [Book Now] Homepage.

[Bendigo Book Mark] Homepage.

Image via Book Now.