JUST TO ASSURE THE READER: YOUR EXPERIENCE OF THE BOOK WILL BE DIFFERENT TO MINE. 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 NO, why hurt another person, the answer is Because you and I are both anonymous to each other, that’s why. 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) book of nearly 600 pages is, despite the very prominent legal disclaimer that says “it is a work of the imagination solely” Oates’ re-invention of the well-publicised Colorado murder of child model JonBenét Ramsey. 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?
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? 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. 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 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.) 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 ) 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.)
Do you remember earlier I said all would be revealed? I hope you had the deurhoevermoed 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!)
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.”
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!