Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Jack of Spades, by Joyce Carol Oates

The work of prolific, award-winning novelist Joyce Carol Oates spans a wide spectrum of controversial topics.  Her new novel, Jack of Spades: A Tale of Suspense takes a lighter approach than some of her other work.  Andrew J. Rush, a successful, best-selling mystery novelist, has a secret.  He has been called "the gentleman's Stephen King" but, unbeknownst to his fans or even to his family, he writes noirish pulp fiction under the pseudonym Jack of Spades.

When a local crank takes Rush to court for supposedly stealing her work and publishing it as his own, Rush's Jack of Spades alter-ego leads him down a path of obsession and uncharacteristic behavior.  Oates gives some insight into the life of a writer, the things that inspire and bother him, and the way his fame and success puts pressure on him.  I can't help but wonder how much of Rush's story is autobiographical, as Oates herself has published under a couple of pseudonyms.  Are the pseudonymous works a reflection of the writer's true character, a whimsical side entertainment, or an important complement to his well-known books?

Oates builds the tension of Jack of Spades as Rush lets his obsession with his literary accuser take over his thoughts.  She includes some humorous nods to Stephen King and other mystery/horror writers, and ends up turning the story into a plot with a resolution worthy of Edgar Allan Poe.  It's a bit dark.  OK, plenty dark, but in a dark comedy sort of way.  I think King and Poe would approve.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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