My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike

by Joyce Carol Oates

Hardcover, 2008

Status

Available

Publication

Ecco (2008), Edition: 1, 576 pages

Description

The unexpurgated first-person narrative of nineteen-year-old Skyler Rampike, the only surviving child of an infamous American family. A decade ago the Rampikes were destroyed by the murder of Skyler's six-year-old ice-skating champion sister, Bliss, and the media scrutiny that followed. Part investigation into the unsolved murder; part elegy for the lost Bliss and for Skyler's own lost childhood; and part corrosively funny expose of the pretensions of upper-middle-class American suburbia, this captivating novel explores with unexpected sympathy and subtlety the intimate lives of those who dwell in Tabloid Hell.

Media reviews

"...the depiction of Skyler gives the book its considerable power. His voice is a memorable portrait of contemporary American jetsam - sly, wounded, unruly, but oddly credible. "
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"She is a formidable writer, of course, and there are flashes of her at her hard-hitting best. . . . But it is hard to warm to the book as a whole."
"My Sister, My Love" is an illuminating critique of media madness and all the shallowness that makes it go: misplaced parental ambitions and messed-up marriages (Skyler finds a used condom in Daddy's Jeep); religious faith for convenience and drugs that cover the pain (mostly prescription); a
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society so addicted to celebrity that it's easy to forget the ordinary folks who matter to us.

Most important, "My Sister, My Love" reminds us that the "Tabloid Hell" has not only become part of the air we breathe but also, as Pogo would have it, we've met the enemy, and it is us.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member JudyCroome
JUST TO ASSURE THE READER: YOUR EXPERIENCE OF THE BOOK WILL BE DIFFERENT TO MINE (1). Never will you know how many “anonymous reader-reviewers” (including your cybercesspoolspace so-called friends) will press the “NO-this-is-not-helpful” button on your review and if asked why, why say
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NO, why hurt another person, the answer is Because you and I are both anonymous to each other, that’s why.

(1) And, in case you’re wondering at the postmodernist/strange/odd shape this review will take, the canny reader (of which, yes, there are some) will know why. The rest of you, like poor befuddled me: read on! All will be revealed.

This long (very long/enormously long/mind-numbingly long)(2) book of nearly 600 pages is, despite the very prominent legal disclaimer that says “it is a work of the imagination solely” (2a) Oates’ re-invention of the well-publicised Colorado murder of child model JonBenét Ramsey.

(2) Perhaps I’m being too harsh here. What do you think, reader? Has five long days reading this book soured my perception? I did, after all, find the first 200 pages a fascinating work of genius. Perhaps I suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or I Like My Books Shorter Disorder (ILMBSD) or even (horrible thought) Can’t Concentrate For Too Long Disorder (CFFTLD) which negatively impacted my enjoyment?

(2a) Hard to believe that the real “infamous” All-American family on which this rambling/frenetic/dare-I-say-it boring novel is based didn’t sue the author. The parallels between the JonBenét Ramsey case and Skyler Rampike’s narrative of the murder of his younger sister, 6 year-old ice skating champion Bliss (previously known as Edna Louise) are remarkably similar (Remember this character, readers, she is important).

Told “mainly” or “mostly” from the viewpoint of almost 20-year-old dropout/nutty/creepy Skyler Rampike looking back on his childhood leading up the life–defining moment when his young celebrity sister (Do you remember her?) is murdered. Leaping back and forth between his present and past (before-murder past and after-murder past), it’s difficult to find a single appealing character.

Perhaps the childrens’ neuroses can be blamed on the parents. But, as Pastor Bob finally says to Skyler when the (somewhat predictable) mystery of Who Killed JonBenét?(3) is finally revealed and Skyler turns to him for advice, “You’re not a child, Skyler, what do you expect me to tell you?” So, dear readers, can you see where I’m going with this? Despite the occasional glimpse - and the surprisingly optimistic note of his story’s ending - Skyler is as unappealing and screwed-up as the rest of the people inhabiting this bitter, dark (and in no way as tasty as bitter dark chocolate) novel.

(3) Oh NO! Did I say JonBenét? I meant Who Killed Bliss Rampike?

The caustic humour stopped being funny long before the end. The only irony I could find was that in Oates’ malicious portrayal of the Tabloid Media (4) she condemned the very thing she does herself in this novel (and BLONDE and BLACK WATER). She takes a personal tragedy (and even if the family were involved in the poor kid’s murder, it’s still a personal tragedy) and picks picks picks over it (like Skyler in his not-good moments picks picks picks his face and scalp raw). Like the tabloids she condemns, Oates puts her own spin on it, never mind how it will affect those who are intimately involved in the story (and we all know, despite the LARGE legal disclaimer, it’s the Ramsey family, of which the father and brother of poor JonBenét are still around somewhere in America.)

 (4) Admittedly the Gutter Press should stay where they belong…in the gutter. The Press has such power and that power is too often abused and corrupted in the heady rush to publish an ever-more salacious story. But what of the readers who buy those scandal sheets? Just like Bix Rampike (who after suing and suing) ended up investing in some of the more profitable tabloids, surely the tabloid readers themselves carry some blame?

Ultimately, I endured this novel as part of some research I’m doing. But the repetitive/brutal/deleterious (you see, I can use Big Words too!) tone of the novel; the author’s inability to sustain the voice of the sometimes nine-year-old, at other times nearly twenty-year-old Skyler Rampike; and the too-clever tricks and games played in the text (such as black-outs and parenthesis and footnotes to footnotes(5) ) all contributed to the general confusion and pretentiousness of the novel. (Did the author really think to impress us with the oh-so-casual mention of the intellectual and minimalist Arvo Pärt?) This novel would have greatly benefited from a ruthless editor, who slashed 50 000/100 000/ 150 000/take your pick words from the draft manuscript and saved us the effort of wading through the mammoth book. (Note to self: Another advantage of the Kindle is that I didn’t get wrist sprain from holding this gigantic tome.)

(5) Do you remember earlier I said all would be revealed? (5a) I hope you had the deurhoevermoed (5b) that I did, and have continued reading until the end of my review. (I hope too, that you’ll press the YES button, when asked if this review was helpful!)

 (5b) I, too, can use strange foreign words to impress upon you, my dear reader, how very erudite and knowledgeable I (as the author imitating a supposedly dyslexic young boy) can be! This word is Afrikaans and, loosely translated, means “endurance.”

(5a) Now it is time, dear loyal reader, to reveal why I have written my review in this weird/strange/odd way. I have imitated/copied/satirised the style of MY SISTER, MY LOVE. If you LOVED this review, you will (I promise) thoroughly enjoy MY SISTER, MY LOVE (and will probably give it 5 stars.) If you AB-so-LUTELY hated the way I ‘ve written this review: run! Run away from this book! It may be the death of you. It was almost the death of me but I’m a tough (and simple) boere meisie from South Africa and I survived to write this review. I hope it helps you make your decision whether to buy this book or not!

(A Final Note: This review is for the Kindle edition)
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LibraryThing member LynnB
This is a powerful book. It is based on the real-life murder of child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey, with a satirical look at the desire for fame, life in the suburbs, fanatical Christians and living in "Tabloid Hell".

In this novel, six year old Bliss Rampike is found murdered in her home. The story
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is narrated by her older brother, Skyler, who is writing a decade after the murder. Skyler has been heavily medicated and institutionalized ever since his sister's death and is struggling to survive the hell his life has become.

Through is voice, we learn the story of the Rampike family. The success-driven parents, Betsey and Bix, who demand perfection from their children and are never satisified by what they have -- not their jobs, their home, friendships, each other, or tragically, their children.

Skyler was "Mummy's little man" and came first in her heart until his younger sister, Edna Louise (later renamed Bliss) proved to be a champion figure skater. Skyler's narrative tells of his mother's drive to exploit Bliss's talent, and her attempts to use Skyler to make friends with prominent families in the neighbourhood.

Joyce Carol Oates has created characters that are satirical, but the narrator (Skyler) is not stereotypical or two-dimensional. I really wanted to know how his life turned out. This book was disturbing, sometimes funny, sometimes shocking and I recommend it.
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LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
"I've made myself begin whatever this will be, some kind of personal document--a 'unique personal document'--not a mere memoir but (maybe) a confession. (Since in some quarters, Skyler Rampyke is a murder suspect you'd think I have plenty to confess,wouldn't you?) Fittingly, this document will not
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be chronological/linear but will follow a pathway of free association organized by an unswerving (if undetectable) interior logic: unliterary, unpretentious, disarmingly crude-amateur, guilt-ridden, appropriate to the 'survivor' who abandoned his six-year-old sister to her 'fate' sometime in the 'wee hours' of January 29, 1997, in our home in Fair Hills, New Jersey. Yes, I am that Rampike."

This book is Joyce Carol Oates's imagined version of the Jon-Benet Ramsey murder. In the book, Jon-Benet is Bliss Rampike, a precocious ice-skater who was murdered at the age of six in the basement of the family home. The story is narrated by Skyler Rampike, Bliss's brother, who was nine years old at the time of the murder, and who is telling the story ten years later.

The Rampike family is needless to say dysfunctional. Patsy Rampike could reasonably described as mentally ill, and her husband Bix is a philanderer who is usually missing in action.

Skyler describes life before Bliss, life during her brief period of fame, and most importantly Skyler narrates brilliantly the effects the murder had on the Rampike family, and in particular on him. While the parents were initially suspected of the murder, and Bliss had a stalker who may have been implicated in her murder, in large part the suspicions of guilt were directed to Skyler.

This is one of the best Oates books I have read. It is an incisive and dark pyschological study of two flawed individuals who should never have had children, and whose actions created deeply unhappy and disturbed children.

However, the book is not unceasingly bleak. In fact, substantial portions of it skewer the life styles of upwardly mobile social climbers. The descriptions of Skyler's disastrous "play-dates," organized by his mother to further her social ambitions are particularly funny. At least until we stop to consider how difficult these episodes must have been to Skyler.
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LibraryThing member bhowell
Joyce Carol Oates writes a riveting story of an American tragedy with brilliant psychological tension. I loved it. She is one of my favourite writers and she never disappoints.
LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
"My Sister, My Love" is compulsively readable, but I'm sad to say that I don't think it's one of Oates's better efforts. It's book's subject, which is to say, JonBenet Ramsay and the weird, strained upper-class world she came from, that holds the reader's attention. The book is narrated from the
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point of view of Skyler Rampike, our fictional JonBenet's teenage older brother, and he's a fairly unlikable narrator, given to a self-deprecating sarcasm that grows wearying over five hundred or so pages. Oates pulls out all the po-mo stops, having Skyler construct the narrative before our very eyes, but this painfully self-aware approach only makes his narrative presence more intrusive. Worse, Oates's look at the Ramsay/Rampike family doesn't much get beyond cartoonish caricature: Mom's a Stepford wife, Dad's an overbearing, all-American A-type, Bliss/JonBenet is forced to be a parody of little-girl femininity. This may be, of course, a commentary on the Ramsays themselves, who were, as far as most Americans are concerned, nothing more than a series of sensationalistic news reports and creepy images, but this one-dimensional approach isn't much fun to read and keeps Oates from delving into what really drives her characters. Oates remains a gifted graphomaniac of the first order, and the book isn't without its effective, and affecting, passages, most notably her description of Skyler's teenage romance and his ultimately successful attempts to overcome his past. I'd recommend that LibraryThingers read "You Must Remember This" instead.
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LibraryThing member DelasColinasNegras
Though it took some effort to keep picking the book up because of the cold, callous parents, eventually I cared enough about poor little Skyler that I could not put the book down until I found out if he would ever get his life back.
I feel Oates did a brilliant job. It is the most uniquely written
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book I have ever read!
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LibraryThing member dianemb
At first, I didn't think I was going to like this book and then I got drawn in to the point that I had a hard time putting it down. Loosely based on the story of Jon-Benet Ramsey and written from the point of view of the overlooked older brother, the author gives us an inside look at the family
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dynamics of a mother living her life through her daughter, while the family falls apart. The aftermath of the murder is also explored with some interesting twists. A tragic look at what celebrity can do to a family and perhaps an indictment of a certain aspect of contemporary culture.
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LibraryThing member Cecilturtle
Inspired by the infamous Ramsey murder case, this book is a boy's tale to cope with his sister's murder. It is raw with emotion and passion, and it is therefore difficult to detect Oates's incisive look at voyeurism, children exploitation, medication abuse in the school system, religious frenzy and
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a slew of other problems. It is incredibly well-written and therefore not entirely believable that a teen would have that kind of mastery of the language (the occasional fumbles in language are too contrived). The characters are both detestable, pitiful and to a large extent stereotypical since they are meant as but puppets of real-life, but they remain human and believable. Oates has an uncanny way of reaching into the subconscious and expressing feelings with shadows. She succeeds marvelously well in this novel.
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LibraryThing member Airycat
Once I started to read this book, I wanted to continue reading. I chose this book because I have always heard about what a good writer Joyce Carol Oates is. I was not disappointed by her writing. Oates' style is beautiful, compelling. After I finished the book, however, I couldn't help but wonder
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what the point of it was.

Unquestionably, characters are more important than plot. Since the story was inspired by a true story, what happened is known. The book is all about how people behave and how they are affected by what happens. The story is told from the point of view of the older brother of the slain child. We see his parents through his eyes as a child (though clearly filtered through his older mind), and some of the other adults around him. We also see his sister through those same eyes. Although he does not paint her as angelic or perfect, by any means, he maintains more of the feelings for her that he had as a child -- a normal love/hate, or love/jealous/envy that siblings have. He has a lot of guilt, though nothing in the story shows that guilt to be valid. It is the guilt often felt by children who have survived a tragedy. What makes this story unsuccessful for me is that he never overcomes that guilt. In fact, it seems to grow with him. It is nothing new that such a feeling of guilt will lead one on a spiral downward.

She gives a vivid picture of the social strata and how some people see their lives only in terms of their position. Specific location was not important to the story. Such things happen anywhere. Societal position, however, was very important to the story. Posh suburbs, private schools, personal training were all part of the lifestyle of the main characters and had a lot to do with what happened from the author's point of view as I understand it. Again, none of this is new, including sacrifice of family -- even literally.

It honestly seems to me that she has merely taken a true story that has stuck in the nation's mind and tried, without knowing exactly what, to make something of it.

The book is worth reading for Oates' style and eloquence, but skip it if you're not fond of depressing for depressing's sake.

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I have read the author's website and see that this book is satirical... something I'm not particularly good at picking up on my own. After some thought I may have a new review at a later date.
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LibraryThing member CatieN
Skyler Rampike is the narrator of this somewhat bizarre book. It is a take-off on the JonBenet story with the murdered 6-year-old being Skyler's little sister Bliss who was a budding competitive ice-skater. The book is part murder mystery and part humorous take-off on life in the upper-middle-class
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suburbs and stage moms. Oates is one of my favorite authors, but with the exaggerated characters and bizarre storyline, this is not one of my favorite books that she has written.
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LibraryThing member PeskyLibrary
My Sister, My Love is Joyce Carol Oates’ creepy yet poignant interpretation of the Jon Benet Ramsey murder, as told by an older brother. The book explores the murder, and personalities of those surrounding the murder, of a competitive ice princess in the same vein as Jodi Picault’s 19 Minutes
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interpretively explored the Columbine High School murders.
The portraits Joyce Carol Oates paints of the mother and the father in this fictional “Rampike” family are sympathetic yet repulsive. Their characters are victims of our all-American drive for money and fame. Fame, indeed, is what they get but at what cost? In this tale they not only lose their daughter, Bliss, to the murderer – I won’t ruin the surprise ending(!)- but their moral compass which was beginning to go astray at the time of her death, ends up all over the page. The narrater, Bliss’ brother, endures a living hell throughout the book until the final pages, but essentially his life was ruined by this sister from the get-go, primarily due to the mother’s bone-crushing need to have Bliss succeed on the ice. In this story the little girl is an ice skater as opposed to a beauty queen, and resides in New Jersey rather than Colorado. But Bliss is murdered at the age of seven, just like Jon Benet, and the mother tarted her up incessantly for the media, all the while proclaiming her modesty in front of the camera. Joyce Carol Oates explores the depravity brought upon our culture via the mass media. Nothing good can come of it.
The text of the story is interspersed with “excerpts” from the narrator, Skyler’s, story within a story, in typed copy as though just found on his desk. Along with this are “handwritten” letters from “Your loving mother – Mummy”, the bane of Skyler’s existence, who is begging his forgiveness for the lack of love and begging for his involvement in her life again after the murder. These “authentic” inserts, along with Skyler’s own “footnotes” add a liveliness to the text, which is somewhat looong at 562 pages, not that any of it wasn’t riveting reading, but given the heavy tone of the novel it starts to get wearing just after midway through it. Not my favorite Joyce Carol Oates, and I am a fan, but that’s probably due to the basic premise of the plot. MAT10_09
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LibraryThing member mojomomma
Wow! I loved this book. No one does dysfunctional families as well as Oates! The family dynamics reminded me a lot of her other books I have read (Gravedigger's Daughter, We Were the Mulvaneys). The story is told from Skyler's point of view as a 19-year-old recalling his childhood and the life and
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mysterious death of his little sister Bliss ten years before.
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LibraryThing member Ameise1
This story gives me a lot to think about upbringing, parental ambitions and the disastrous consequences. Also this is a fiction based on an unsolved murder case there is so much truth in it how a lot of children are suffering from parental ambitions be it in a sportive or art aspect or the
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offspring's schooling for their future career and becoming rich and famous. Everything is planned in advance without asking the children if they would like it this way. There is no room left for individual fulfilment neither any possibility to meet friends on their own because playdates are organised by their mothers. So, it's no wonder that the kids and the adolescents need therapy to survive. It's a shame what damages parents can do.
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LibraryThing member akblanchard
The Jon-Benet Ramsey murder case is the inspiration for this sordid dysfunctional family story, as narrated by the little girl/murder victim's older brother, Skyler. Not favored by his parents, and even labelled a murder suspect in some quarters, outcast Skyler struggles to make sense of the
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disintegration of his family after his ice-skater sister's early death and his own incarceration in mental hospitals. His wealthy parents are repulsive: over-the-top ignorant, insensitive and self-centered, and their status-conscious neighbors and associates in their upscale New Jersey town aren't much better.

The narrative is both sad and oddly fascinating at the same time. It also could have been at least 100 pages shorter.
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LibraryThing member mamzel
Reading the reviews after I finished I discovered this was meant as a satire so I guess I took it way too seriously. In a way I am glad since the book is tragic from cover to cover and I felt like I took a beating reading it. This poor little girl and her brother pulled the short straw when it came
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to parents. They were totally self-centered and only interested in how they were perceived as parents that the only interest they took in their children was to transform them into window dressing. Even the names of all of the neighbors were brutal and violent. Masterfully written but I have to choose something more cheerful to read next like I need a warm scented bath after shoveling gravel.
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LibraryThing member Ellouise
This is a strangely gripping book. At times, I was repelled by plot. The intensity lasted through the 562 pages. The story of Edna Louise, renamed Bliss who became a prodigy girl figure skater & was murdered at the age of 8. The brother, Skyler, believed that he was the murderer. Throughout the
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book's vivid discription of Skyler's mental illness & the disintegration of the family, the reader is horrified with the action of the parents. I'm not really sure who the murderer is. The ending made me think that we never know who we really are. We are all atoning for something. This story, I believe, was to mirror the JonBonnet case. Mass media is a character in this book.
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LibraryThing member Dairyqueen84
This book was really a chore for me to get through. At least it had a somewhat hopeful ending.

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