Book Rec: My Sister, My Love by Joyce Carol Oates

I warned you it was coming. Book Rec: My Sister, My Love by Joyce Carol Oates I very easily could make my entire post one quotation from the novel and tell you to read it:

She is what I would be. If God had loved me instead.

That would be most unfair, of course. Though it does nicely encapsulate the majority of the 562 page faux-memoir of Skyler Rampike, brother of child figure skating prodigy "Bliss" Rampike. Replace "Rampike" with "Ramsey" and "figure skating" with "beauty pageant" and you'll know what the novel is really about. Based on the infamous murder of Jon Benet Ramsey, My Sister, My Love is a challenging work of fiction told from a surprisingly unique perspective considering how close it seems on paper to prior narrators of Oates's novels. Stop me if you've read this one before: a mentally unbalanced man with a disastrous childhood has an unnatural obsession with something harmful to him, so he retells the story of how he got where he in mixed first and third person narration. Toss in self-referential asides to the reader about how the "memoir" would be if it were actually a novel by a renowned author and ample footnotes that also shift perspective from what's happening on the page around it, and you have a very vague idea of what to expect. Plus page long sentences at times seemingly devoid of proper punctuation for artistic effect. I do need to clarify one point: this is not a fictionalization of the Ramsey case. The event was used as a jumping off point to create a wholly fictional world that feels very real. Perhaps the reason I had to pace myself so much on this novel was the subject of the novel. As someone who grew up in the performing arts, I've seen plenty of children pushed way too hard way too soon who crash and burn in inglorious ways. I've also been pushed into training I did not feel comfortable in under adults' misguided intention of helping me. Which leaves me at 22, almost 23 years old, deathly afraid of seeking private lessons in anything related to music or drama. Watching all of this told from the perspective of one child pushed so hard he became crippled for life speaking of another child whose fame resulted in her death is devastating. It can be darkly funny at times, but I'd say the default setting is emotional ruination. The narrator is disturbed and he seemingly cares so much about the truth that he doesn't care at all how people will perceive it. It's effective. As hard as it was to make it all the way through, I wanted to read more. If I had been better prepared for how far Oates went with the concept, I probably could have gone through all 500+ pages in a single day and dived back in for me. I'd say give it a try. If nothing else, at least sneak a peak inside the cover at your local bookstore and take a few paragraphs out for a test read. You might be surprised by how much you appreciate it.

Labels: book rec