Adventures in Reading


In response to Weekly Geeks #12
November 6, 2008, 8:47 am
Filed under: thoughtful | Tags: , ,

Anyone else remember Weekly Geeks #12 from, well, weeks ago? Anyone? Well I have finally finished reading Joyce Carol Oates’ My Sister, My Love, which most of my participants asked about, and am responding.

From Andi: “Some people seem to find her [Oates] tedious, so do you?” Yes and no. The final part of the book was definitely tedious, but considering the tabloid nature of My Sister, My Love of course all of the good stuff was up front. But Oates does seem to favor broad ideas with lots of development.

From Dew: “Did My Sister, My Love have any stylistic eccentricities that bothered you while reading?” Oates definitely favored an unconventional narrative style, which is something I actually quite enjoy in fiction. The story was told through the perspective of Skyler and his narrative would switch between first and third person, he’d reflect on his own use of literary devices, and the physical page at times would switch between a journal and the memoir. I don’t recall any “run-ons” though.

From Katherine: “Have you read any of Oates’s other works…? If so, how do they stack up to My Sister, My Love?” My experience with Oates is limited to her short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”, which is a brilliant story that I have a fond recollection of spending days of class dissecting and discussing. Though short stories and novels are incredibally different, I was impressed with the voices and perspectives that Oates can take on; both are so thoroughly different and each written quite well.

From bybee: “Is this a novel for adults, or another YA book?” It’s definitely an adult novel in content, thought, ambiguity, themes, etc. Not to say that a young adult with a mature reading pallet couldn’t get behind My Sister, My Love, but I don’t think that Oates intended a young adult audience.

From Kim: “I am interested in this one you have picked–is it gloomy or have hope at the end of the tunnel?” Perhaps perverse is a better word? My Sister, My Love – like all good tabloid stories – is a car wreck and we all find ourselves as rubbernecking spectators. It’s not a happy book in that their is no uplifting conclusion, but it is an interesting book that displays the highs and lows of an American family.

From Katrina: “How does it compare to her other work? And does it feature an abused female? All her work seems to be about women who have been mistreated in some way from what I have read so far.” For the first question, see above. My Sister, My Love definitely has an “abused female” in the likes of Bliss Rampike who is murdered and her mother Betsy who experiences a variety of abuses. Saying that though, My Sister, My Love very much explores the idea of abused people, and especially the idea of self-abuse. But that’s definitely an interesting observation and I’ll keep it in mind next time I read Oates.

From Bibliolatrist: “…did the news about the DNA evidence re: the Ramseys affect your reading of the novel? Did you find the obvious connection to the Ramsey family distracting, or did you find it helpful to have the story grounded in “real life”?” When the Ramsey case happened I was quite young and I actually had to read the Wikipedia article to bring me up to date on the murder and trial. I did not find it distracting but it was interesting to have so much fact obvisouly imbedded in a work of fiction. For the more recent DNA evidence that proved it was an outsider – without giving too much away, it’s interesting what Oates did (though appropriate) prior to knowing about this new evidence in the case.

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Fiction: My Sister, My Love by Joyce Carol Oates, 2008

“The death of a beautiful girl-child of no more than ten years of age is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.” – E.A. Pym from “The Aesthetics of Composition,” 1846

Joyce Carol Oates’ most recent novel My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike is a foray into the world of childhood tabloid stardom. Unquestioningly based on the JonBenét Ramsey case of the ’90s, My Sister, My Love is told through the voice of Skyler Rampike – the brother of legendary child prodigy figure skater Bliss Rampike, who was murdered as a young girl. The novel is a memoir manuscript of sorts exploring Skyler’s perspective and experience, as well as the tabloid influence on his American life post-tragedy.

As my first novel by the prolific Oates, My Sister, My Love delivers everything it promises. Written from a medicated and spoiled/privileged viewpoint of an American, wealthy adolescent, the character Skyler is written in a jumpy or nervous style that switches between first and third person narrative as well as through the eyes of a younger boy and an adolescent. (If you’re not comfortable with alternative narratives, I’d suggest staying away from this one.) The narrative becomes more curious as throughout Skyler reflects on his own use of literary devices.

I didn’t love this book, though I did speed read through the first 3/4ths of the book. The gritty tabloid aspect of the book works brilliantly, as does Skyler’s childhood experiences with the Rampike family, and I found myself reading it like I scan the “trash mags” at the grocery store check out aisle; however, the latter portion of the book just isn’t as interesting. *Shrugs.* Regardless, this is what the book promised from the start and Oates does deliver it. Perhaps not her best book, but still one that I (mostly) enjoyed reading. In addition to the theme of media and particularly tabloids, Oates has a lot to say on this particular venue and type of America and the people that are produced from it.

One point of additional interest for myself was that when Skyler was a child during the ’90s so was I, and I felt like I had a more intimate look because of this (a.k.a. my mom totally dressed at times like the mother in the book!)

A Girl Walks Into A Bookstore… had an interesting post awhile back about the cover, and starting the book I initially concurred that the cover is just not appealing, but now that I’ve finished the book it is strangely appropriate (that and I have no other ideas to suggest that would be any more appealing!).

Conclusion: Returned to the library.