Monday, March 13, 2017

A secret life

Joyce Carol Oates mentions quite a number of great writers in the course of her short suspense novel Jack of Spades, yet one she doesn't mention, Robert Louis Stevenson, may be the most influential, for her novel reads like a repackaged version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Andrew J. Rush is a successful, middle-aged mystery novelist who, late at night, churns out violent, cheap thrillers under the name of Jack of Spades. Even his dear wife and grown children do not know he is the author of such trash. Gradually we see the mild Andrew J. Rush transform into the wild Jack of Spades. At first he only hears his voice, as if an evil imp were whispering into his ear. Then he launches into a secret life, usually late at night, when he does things Rush would have never considered. In time his entire personality changes, he drinks more and, as Andrew J. Rush, he finds he can write nothing, but as Jack of Spades he becomes prolific.

Stephen King isn't exactly a character in the novel, yet he is mentioned often enough to be one. Rush regards King as his only serious rival. Then it turns out that a frustrated writer who sues Rush, accusing him of  breaking into her home and stealing her story ideas, has also sued King, accusing him of the same thing. When Jack of Spades does, in fact, break into the woman's house he finds that the plots of her stories have an uncanny resemblance to those of both Rush and King.

Another major influence on the story is the work of Edgar Allan Poe. At times Oakes makes her tale as eerie as anything Poe produced. There's even a spooky black cat, if not a raven.

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