“My Sister, My Love”August 19, 2008 at 3:29 pm | Posted in Fiction | 3 Comments
Raise your hand if you’ve read all of Joyce Carol Oates’ books. …You have? Really? Personally, I can’t keep up – she’s been putting out at least a book a year since what, 1964? She’s more prolific than Stephen King! And might I mention, equally fabulous, if not more so. (I’m a huuuuge King fan – in fact I think Carrie might have been the first “grown up book” I ever read – so from me that’s saying a lot). We Were the Mulvaneys is one of those absolutely epic achievements that drives other authors to drink out of jealousy. But we’re not talking about that right now.
My Sister, My Love is part satire, part horror, based at least somewhat on the JonBenet Ramsey murder of 1996. You don’t have to know anything about the Ramsey case to appreciate Oates’s book, but if you’re a true crime buff you’ll appreciate that she’s done her research. The parallels are quite blatant, starting with the echoing names of Betsey Rampike/Patsy Ramsey.
I scarcely know what to say about this book. It’s a tour de force. It’s a send-up of upper middle class life and of American excess generally. Oates misses nothing, from daytime television to SUVs to media rampages. The novel itself mimics the sensational true crime tell-all. All that’s missing is a photo spread in the center. Yet the typical satire is somewhat shallow. My Sister, My Love has more fully realized characters and human feeling, though shared through the narrator’s world-weary voice. One also appreciates that Oates waited until after Patsy Ramsey had passed away and the case had somewhat fallen off the cultural radar, giving more weight to her message and helping avoid the sense of trashy exploitation a lesser author would inevitably have produced.
Creepy quote: “Something bad is in my bed”