Review

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

by Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates, award-winning writer of darkly amusing
American fiction, has pushed the envelope to the ripping point in
this speculative take on the most notorious unsolved crime of the
20th century --- the murder of JonBenét Ramsey.

In this book, JonBenét, the child beauty queen, has morphed
into Bliss Rampike (note the retention of one syllable of the
famous surname), a child skating star. After Bliss, born plain Edna
Louise --- compelled by her overweight, ambitious mother Betsey's
lost dreams of skating fame --- wins one local competition, the
chase for stardom is on. "The small face meticulously made up like
the face of an old-fashioned and very expensive ceramic doll," the
special outfits, the costly coaching --- no penny is spared to turn
the tyke into a champion, and a media darling. Bliss's dad Bix, an
unfaithfully fornicating, often absent exec, loves his baby girl
(maybe too much?) and balks at the expense involved in his wife's
obsessive push to transform her.

Behind the scenes, a dark lunar figure obscured in the sunburst of
Bliss, is Skylar, her older brother, who is the voice of this
"diary." (The real life Ramsey brother, Burke, was in the house
when his six-year-old sister met her death and was suspected, like
his parents, of being the perpetrator).

When the young Skylar, sensing the tension between his parents,
dares to ask how much Bliss's skating career is costing the family,
his mother claims defensively, "It's an investment," while the
adorable Bliss says quizzically, "It's what God wants me to do. It
isn't like other things that cost money, Skylar. It's
special."

Yet privately, Skylar knows that Bliss is insecure and frightened
(of what?). Sometimes, like any jealous sibling, he preys on those
fears to make her feel worse. He can't help but experience a sense
of exaltation when, at the finale of a crucial competition, she
falls --- especially because he himself was crippled physically and
scarred mentally by his parents' ambitions to make him a star
gymnast. A few days after the disgraceful fall, little Bliss is
dead. No wonder then that all his young life (the "diary" is
composed when he is 19) Skylar harbors a secret tormented guilt
that it might have been he who savagely beat little Bliss's head
against the basement wall.

In the midst of these maniacal musings from a boy who has lived
half his life in "Tabloid Hell" (a point Oates stresses), we see,
through his naïve eyes, evidence of sexual molestation and
possible incestuous abuse of the Mommy-created child star. A bed
wetter (like JonBenét), the baby sister is described by Skylar
as a fey, manipulative toddler who is both aware of her power over
adults and terrified of displeasing them. We watch as Skylar opens
his father's secret drawers and finds the "toys" of a perverted
lecher. We agonize with the boy-turned-self-tortured teen as he
remembers, or tries not to, the night of the bizarre crime, and
tries to figure out whether or not he witnessed or took part in
scenes that, in the constant spotlight of the media, have taken on
a life of their own, overshadowing the facts of the case.

Despite the disclaimers at the beginning of the book, no one will
be able to read MY SISTER, MY LOVE without finding it giving legs
to our own imagined scenarios about the Ramsey family, vividly
recalling the sad, twisted saga of JonBenét's short life.
Oates offers a pedophile as the presumed perpetrator and creates
expiation by his suicide, but also postulates a family member as
the "real" murderer. However, as sometimes happens, actual events
have overtaken her fictional musings. We now know (as of July 9,
2008) that the Ramsey family is not guilty, based on DNA evidence,
after being tried and often vilified in the court of public opinion
for the past 10 years. As we avidly read this clever, carefully
observed morality play, we must bear the truth in mind.

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on January 12, 2011

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

  • Publication Date: July 1, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 0061547484
  • ISBN-13: 9780061547485