Thursday, December 19, 2019

Book Reviews Reloaded: Jack of Spades

This article first appeared on East Niagara Post on December 29, 2015. It is repeated here as I work to put all my book reviews in one place. They will be posted on Thursdays or Fridays and only be altered from the original in that I will add publisher information and pages. Hopefully, by revisiting these reviews, other people might find a book they'd like to pick up for their own enjoyment.

Jack of Spades -- Joyce Carol Oates
Mysterious Press
208 pages.

I have read many of Joyce Carol Oates’ books. Most of them haven’t really impressed me all that much, but some have been fantastic. I loved The Falls, which is easily my favorite of her books. I know Oates is practically deified in the Lockport area, so I am well aware of the potential backlash of an unfavorable review.

Jack of Spades is the latest output by Joyce Carol Oates. This novel tells the story of Andrew Rush, a mystery novelist who has taken on a pseudonym as he begins to explore some of the darker ideas that inhabit his thoughts. These books, by “Jack of Spades,” border on violent and masochistic. Rush’s family has no idea who the author of these dark books is, but they find them quite disturbing and personal.

In the midst of attempting to hide the provenance of the Jack of Spades novels, Rush is summoned to court by a woman who claims that his novels are plagiarized from her own, unpublished works. As Rush turns more and more to his alter ego to deal with the issues facing him, his actions begin to mirror the fictional author he created.

If this sounds a lot like Stephen King’s The Dark Half, you’re not alone. The biggest difference? George Stark becomes a physical entity in true King, horror fashion after he is “buried.” Oates’ Jack of Spades is more of a psychological thriller with him being the darker half of a schizophrenic personality.

Unfortunately, Jack of Spades seems more like a literary exercise than a fully fleshed out novel. At just over 200 pages, this book barely scratches the surface. It’s hurried pace is not nearly as engaging as it could be. The Andrew Rush character is not well developed and his downward spiral seems to be hurried. All too soon, his story comes to an abrupt end.

Joyce Carol Oates does pack a lot of dangerous darkness into her character in a relatively short amount of time. However, it is not enough to salvage a story that could have been so much more engaging. This is a novel that could have used a bit more time coming together. From start to end, the story line seemed to move at a frantic pace more conducive to simply getting a book to the publisher than for the creation of a well-written plot.

To be sure, I will continue to pick up Joyce Carol Oates’ books, waiting for another gem like The Falls to shine through. Although I was quite disappointed in her latest creation with Jack of Spades, Oates has a long list of best sellers behind her. One sub-par novel will not detract from the success she has been able to build over a long and illustrious career.

Craig Bacon’s dark half likes to eat peanut butter & jelly sandwiches when he’s sitting next to people who may be allergic. He’s diabolical. Discover his latest “-inator” inventions on Twitter at @Craigbacon1973.