By Joyce Carol Oates

Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Ecco Press
Year: 2008
Pages: 562

New York Times bestselling author of The FallsBlonde, and We Were the Mulvaneys, Joyce Carol Oates returns with a dark, wry, satirical tale—inspired by an unsolved American true crime mystery.

“Dysfunctional families are all alike. Ditto ‘survivors.'”

So begins the unexpurgated first-person narative of nineteen-year-old Skyler Rampike, the only surviving child of an “infamous” American family. A decade ago the Rampikes were destroyed by the murder of Skyler’s six-year-old ice-skating champion sister, Bliss, and the media scrutiny that followed. Part investigation into the unsolved murder; part elegy for the lost Bliss and for Skyler’s own lost childhood; and part corrosively funny exposé of the pretensions of upper-middle-class American suburbia, this captivating novel explores with unexpected sympathy and subtlety the intimate lives of those who dwell in Tabloid Hell.

Likely to be Joyce Carol Oates’s most controversial novel to date, as well as her most boldly satirical, this unconventional work of fiction is sure to be recognized as a classic exploration of the tragic interface between private life and the perilous life of “celebrity.” In My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike, the incomparable Oates once again mines the depths of the sinister yet comic malaise at the heart of our contemporary culture.



35-Yr-Old Fair Hills, NJ Sicko
Paroled After 18 Months of 3 1/2-Yr Sentence

New Jersey Sentinel
February 10, 1997

6-Yr Old Skating Prodigy Slain
While Family Sleeps Upstairs

Star Eye Weekly
February 10, 1997

Ex-Con Child Molester Ruscha Indicted in Fair Hills, NJ
“I Killed Bliss Because I Loved Her”

The Trentonian
February 11, 1997

Fair Hills Police: “Investigation to Continue”

The Star-Ledger*
February 12, 1997

*Reader, repeat these headlines, accompanied by full-page tabloid photos of beautiful little Bliss Rampike and her purported slayer Gunther Ruscha, ad nauseum. And photos of Betsey Rampike and Blix Rampike. And that Rampike family photograph taken for our 1996 Christmas card. If you can stomach this crap, fine. Not for me! Though it’s true that I grew up in the seething penumbra of tabloid hell, and that the very name “Rampike” was borne by me as one might bear the ignominy of an obscene figure branded into one’s forehead. I was able to shut it out. Mostly.


JUST TO ASSURE THE READER: NONE OF THIS WILL EVER HAPPEN TO YOU. Never will you know how “anonymous sources” including your friends will spread terrible lies about you like bats erupting from their mouths and if asked why, why lie, why hurt another person, the answer is Because I am anonymous, that’s why.

Book Covers


Despair is a sickness of the spirit, of the self, and accordingly can take three forms: in despair not to be conscious of having a self; in despair not to will to be oneself; in despair to will to be oneself.

Soren Kierkegaard
The Sickness unto Death
(translated by Howard V. and Edna H. Hong)

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
“The Aesthetics of Composition,” 1846

See Also


  • 2011 Grand prix de l’héroïne Madame Figaro, catégorie roman étranger


Donna Seaman, Booklist, April 1, 2008, p. 5
5 stars
“Damaged and incisive, Skyler is an utterly compelling narrator, and Oates is at once wrenchingly visceral and transcendently empathic in this bold and astute tragedy of fatal ambition. An unforgettable novel of extraordinary dimension and power.”

John Leonard, Harper’s Magazine, July 2008, p. 81
5 stars
“Oates likewise speaks brilliantly for JonBenét, against our pulpy molestations. It’s as if this prodigious novelist can’t help registering all the voices the culture tries to repress. She hears screams and writes books. I am reminded of Joan of Arc, who heard bells and then immediately had visions. After the rapture of carillons, see Catherine, or Margaret, or Michael … Oates, too, consorts with warrior-angels”

Jeff Simon, Buffalo News, July 13, 2008, p. F7
5 stars
“What has to be said—especially here about this riotous novel, so full of satiric asperity—is how much of a virtuoso Oates is, juggling about six different levels of self-ignorance in her characters at the same time that it all seems to make perfect anti-sense …. Oates fictionally penetrates the dark heart of narcissism and privilege but with an undercurrent of deep humanity at novel’s end which becomes quite moving …. ”

Peter Craven, Sydney Morning Herald, December 19, 2008, Spectrum p. 22
5 stars
“[Skyler] takes to the depiction of American family and community life the way Hamlet took to the prospect of assassination—with an infinite waywardness and indirection and fun and games, as well as great savagery and self-laceration and bloody-mindedness. Sklyer is the black prince of a novel that is part whimsical shaggy dog story and part harrowing portrait of adolescent dread in the face of death and guilt. It’s a bizarre book because at its heart is a terrible story, piteous beyond belief, which is also the most familiar of tabloid stories and therefore belongs to the soothing infotainment world of unsolved real-life mysteries that makes vampires of us all.”

Publishers Weekly, April 7, 2008, p. 40
4 stars

Joshua Cohen, Library Journal, May 1, 2008, p. 59
4 stars

Janet Anderson, Philadelphia City Paper, June 26-July 3, 2008, p. 22
4 stars

Ellen Emry Heltzel, Seattle Times, June 29, 2008, Arts & Life p. 14
4 stars

Dale Singer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 29, 2008, p. F8
4 stars

Susan Grimm, Plain Dealer (Cleveland), July 6, 2008, p. E6
4 stars

Colette Bancroft, St. Paul Pioneer Press, July 17, 2008
4 stars

Tim Molloy, Associated Press, July 23, 2008
4 stars

Jill Coley, Post and Courier (Charleston, SC), August 17, 2008, p. E14
4 stars

Stephen Amidon, The Guardian, October 18, 2008, Review p. 11
4 stars

Janet Melikian, School Library Journal, November 2008, p. 157
4 stars

Corinna Lothar, Washington Times, November 9, 2008, p. M30
4 stars

Stella Clarke, Weekend Australian, November 15, 2008, Review p. 12
4 stars

Aubrey Paton, Sunday Times (South Africa), November 16, 2008, Arts p. 20
4 stars

Deirdre Donahue, USA Today, July 17, 2008, p. D5
3 stars

Robert Benziker, Santa Fe New Mexican, August 1, 2008, p. PA26
3 stars

Kate Saunders, The Times (London), September 13, 2008, p. 13
3 stars

Joan Bugbee, Roanoke Times, September 28, 2008, p. 6
3 stars

Kate McLoughlin, Times Literary Supplement, October 3, 2008, p. 20
3 stars

David Robson, Sunday Telegraph (London), October 5, 2008, sec. 7 p. 46
3 stars

Joan Smith, The Sunday Times (London), October 19, 2008
3 stars

Anna Creer, Canberra Times, December 20, 2008, p. A11
3 stars

Sarah Churchwell, New York Times Book Review, August 10, 2008, p. 8
2 stars

James Purdon, The Observer, September 14, 2008, Review p. 26
2 stars

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2008
one star

Eileen Battersby, Irish Times, November 15, 2008
one star

Image: “JonBenet R.I.P.” by Gloria Vanderbilt. Photo by Kerry Schuss

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