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…