Table of Contents

Spring 2009

From The Editor

Letter from Jack Getze

Short Stories

Patrick Whittaker

9:03

Anthony Rainone

Fall to Pieces

Phil Beloin

Late, After Dinner

Jake Nantz

Midnight on the Links

Stephen D. Rogers

Queen Anne's Lace

Mike Sheeter

Blue Fugazzi

David Moss

The Sleepy Pines Nursing Home

Fiona Kay Crawford

Successful Surgeon

Graham Powell

The Ins and Outs

John Towler

The Fall

Damien Seaman

Thursday Night Blowout

Matthew Acheson

Writing on the Wall

Interviews

Sandra Ruttan with Russel D. McLean

Declan Burke with Brian McGilloway

Jim Napier with Phyllis Smallman

Brian Lindenmuth with Craig McDonald

Reviews by:

P.A. Brown

Mexican Heat

Gloria Feit

Friend of the Devil

Theodore Feit

Death Was in the Picture

A Beautiful Place to Die

Night and Day

Claire McManus

The Hanged Man

The Poisoner of Ptah

My Sister, My Love

The Cruelest Month

Jim Winter

Trigger City

The Fourth Victim

TKO

Bookspot Review Roundup

Book Excerpt

The Big O
by Declan Burke

Featured Article

Passing of the Torch - Celebrated crime novelist dies
by Jim Napier

My Sister, My Love

Our book club's book for August was MY SISTER, MY LOVE by Joyce Carol Oates.  Originally we had thought about reading some nonfiction for a change, but then someone suggested a "novelization" of a true story.  We were thinking of IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote, but then someone suggested MY SISTER, MY LOVE which is a fictional account of the JonBenet Ramsey murder case.  In light of the recent evidence that came to light, we thought this would make for good discussion.  And it helped that we have read the Rosamond Smith books in the past, and liked them...so we chose this one!  (P.S., For other book clubs, did you know you can often get a bulk discount from a bookstore if you ask for it?  We got this hardcover book for not much more than a trade paperback would cost.)
 
This is mostly a first-person narrative from the perspective of Skyler Rampike, the older brother of the murdered child--who is here named "Bliss Rampike."  The setting is New Jersey, not Colorado; and Bliss Rampike is a child skating prodigy rather than a child model.  Many of the other details are similar to the Ramsey case, however: the upper-middle class setting in a world of expensive homes and SUV's, the infamous ransom note, and the media feeding frenzy that really never quite abated. 
 
What is most strikingly different is the exploration of the life of the older brother, who was of course suggested as the murderer throughout the years of the Ramsey murder investigation.  Here, Skyler is the original target of his parents' ambitions to live vicariously through their children.  When young Skyler proves to not have what it takes to be an Olympic gymnast (brought on by a serious accident, perhaps caused by his father, that leads him to limp for the rest of his life), "Mummy" Betsey Rampike turns her attentions to young Edna Louise, who is rechristened "Bliss" as her skating career begins to take off. 
 
The novel is certainly long, and not as tightly written as the Rosamond Smith mystery/suspense books.  Still, most of us found it difficult to put down, as well as heartbreaking.  Skyler is basically an orphan in his own family--not enough of a "guy" for his macho father, easily ignored while Mummy devotes all her attention to his sister.  Is it any wonder that the poor kid ends up in "special schools" for the troubled children of the wealthy, experimenting with drugs and never forming any real attachments?  The novel is gripping not only because we come to care so much about what becomes of poor Skyler, but also for the way Oates "solves" the murder (which, interestingly, does not match the recent evidence that came to light...which led to some good discussions regarding whether a novel must match the facts exactly to be "realistic" or effective). 
 
We wondered how Oates, a woman in her sixties, could so understand the life of a teenage boy--but she does.  Several of our women members talked about crying throughout much of the book, while the men talked (a bit uncomfortably) about their adolescent experiences. 
 
One unexpected (and enjoyable) part of the book is a pretty savage look at the pretensions of the nouveau riche, as well as the "industry" that can spring up around tragedy.  Among all the pathos, Oates tosses in some really brutal parody that makes you laugh out loud.   And, as you might expect, she saves her sympathy for the children who are so brutalized by money-grubbing, social climbing parents.
 
The chief complaint was that the book is "too long," but when we looked more closely we wondered if this was a valid criticism. We asked, "OK, what would we take out to shorten the book?"  But every time we suggested that this or that chapter could be excised, we decided the book would be less rich without it.  For example, there's a 50-page chapter that tells about Skyler's failed first romantic relationship (with a character who is supposed to be the daughter of an O.J. Simpson type).  Some of the readers said getting rid of it would shorten the book, but others were horrified at the thought, because it's so heart breaking to see this poor broken kid finally reaching out.  And it's amazing, with what he went through, that Skyler has any love at all left in his heart--but he does, and to learn more you'll have to read the book.
 
Another criticism was the occasionally self-conscious literary style, with a lot of references to "my manuscript," as well as a lot of footnotes that break the narrative.  We weren't quite sure what these were meant to accomplish, and they did seem to interrupt the flow quite often, but in the end we decided that Oates knows a lot more about novel-writing than we do.
 
This is a very sad, and sometimes very funny, book, and we thought it was an extraordinary look at the way the sins of the fathers (and mothers) are visited upon the children. 

The Forever Girl is available now at Amazon and Barnes and Noble