MySisterMyLoveJoyceCaro50994_fWhile I was about a quarter of the way through this novel I happened upon an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent from a few years ago (we are woefully behind here…) which was similarly based on the Jon-Benet Ramsay murder case but took a very different approach (and guest starred the wonderful Liza Minnelli as the grieving mother); an interesting coincidence.

The L&O slant was very much a classic solve-the-murder thing, as you might expect, but My Sister, My Love is as much about family dynamics and wider society as it is about who killed a small, precociously-talented girl and why.

But it’s fair to say that this is really the story of Skyler Rampike, the older brother of Bliss Rampike, the tiny little skating prodigy who is found murdered in her parents basement not long before her seventh birthday. Skyler tells his story in the first person, and not only gives us the background to his sister’s murder (which happened when he was only nine) but the effect that it has had on him – his estrangement from his parents, his drug addiction, his myriad doctors and special schools as he becomes a problem child who has to be managed rather than a damaged youngster who needs to be looked after.

What is interesting for me is the satirical picture it paints of a certain section of society in the USA, of which I have to say I have no knowledge other than what I see on TV and read in books like this. His parents are acquisitive and have aspirations to move up in society. Skyler (and a number of the youngsters at his various schools) are diagnosed with a range of disorders and syndromes and heavily medicated, and you get the impression from Oates’ perspective that actually most of the time there isn’t really anything wrong with them at all, they are just inconveniently becoming teenagers with all that entails.

Part way through I had developed a pretty good idea of who was responsible for what happened to Bliss but not why, and being right re the culprit didn’t spoil the enjoyment of the novel for me, it’s really well-written and wonderfully put together. I’m a huge JCO fan and looking forward to working through the pile of her stuff that I have tucked away on various bookshelves in the house; happy to have started with this one.

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