Book reviews

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I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Someone whose opinion about books I respect enormously says she loves Joyce Carol Oates’ work. Everyone else seems to love her books too, except me. I read We Were the Mulvaneys years ago and it left me lukewarm. I’ve just finished reading Jack of Spades and this story left me stone cold.

I couldn’t find an emotional connection with the narrator, a middle-aged man who is an enormously successful writer of thrillers, although not on the same scale of success as Stephen King. Andy is known in the business as ‘the gentleman’s Stephen King’ and in private, Andy is enormously jealous of Stephen King’s success.

Andy is an odd fellow, whose character didn’t ring true for me. For example, every time Andy mentions his wife, he calls her ‘his dear Irina’ or something similar. That’s just creepy. They’ve been married for a long time. Nobody could keep up all that ‘dear Irina’ stuff unless they were doing it in a sinister manner. (Which he probably was).

Andy, who writes as Andrew J Rush, also has a secret persona. He also writes violent, masochistic fiction under the pseudonym Jack of Spades. These books are so secret that not even Andy’s wife or children know about his alter-ego. When his daughter accidently comes across one of the Jack of Spades books, she reads it and recognises in it an event which happened to her. In the Jack of Spades book, this event is twisted to provide the worst possible ending. Andy’s daughter thinks that Jack of Spades is someone known to the family who is using the family’s stories for their plots.

The story get weirder when Andy is sued by an elderly local woman, who insists that Andy has broken into her house to steal her diaries or stories, then used them as the basis of his own fiction as Andrew J Rush. After the case was thrown out of court Andy learned that the woman had previously sued Stephen King and other well known and successful writers in a similar manner. The court case causes Andy’s thoughts to become darker and darker, as if Jack of Spades is taking over his personality. Instead of seeking professional help, Andy broke into the woman’s house and finds that her written works are similar to his own. And to Stephen Kings’. And that she might have written her stories before they had written theirs… Hmmm.

Most of the time I couldn’t figure out what was going on in Jack of Spades. Questions were raised, but nothing was resolved. I think the story is a homage (of sorts) to Stephen King’s The Dark Half, where a writer’s personality is taken over in a similar way. However, I don’t think Joyce Carol Oates is writing for me. I’m more of a Stephen King sort of reader. A Constant Reader, as Stephen King would say…

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Comments on: "Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates" (6)

  1. Ah, if only you had been around way back when I reviewed this one you’d have known you’re not alone! I thought she was doing a poor rip-off of Jekyll and Hyde. It’s the only thing of hers I’ve ever read and let me reluctant to ever try her again. If memory serves me right, I gave it two stars but I can’t think why it wasn’t one…

  2. I didn’t even make the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde connection!
    Regardless, I think I’ve tried hard enough with this author. I’m not her ideal reader.

  3. Joyce Carol Oates can be kind of hit or miss for me. I liked both “Zombie” and “Black Water,” and thought that “A Fair Maiden” and “Rape: A Love Story” were just okay. This book looks potentially interesting, I’m tempted to check it out to see if I end up liking it better than you did! 🙂

  4. I can’t decide to try any more or not, but if I do, will follow your recommendations. I hate the title of ‘Rape, A Love Story’ though…
    Are you a Stephen King fan? If so, you might appreciate this book more than I did. FictionFan commented on the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde aspect of the story too, which I missed completely,,,

  5. No, I wouldn’t consider myself to really be a Stephen King fan. Believe it or not I’ve only read two of his books (“On Writing” and “Pet Semetary,”) I really enjoyed “On Writing” but I thought “Pet Semetary” was just okay. Apparently there’s a movie adaptation of “Rape: A Love Story” called “Vengeance: A Love Story,” probably because the original title is too controversial. 😛

  6. I found ‘On Writing’ intimidating! It’s a long time since I read ‘Pet Semetary’ but I was the right age and mindset when I did and was scared silly.
    I’m surprised ‘Rape: A Love Story’ was published under that name too, I’m sure loads of readers would feel as I do. There must have been some arguments in the publishing house at the time too.

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