Jack of Spades

Joyce Carol Oates

The late, and in Thea’s opinion great, Christopher Hitchens wrote,

Who but Gore[Vidal] could begin a discussion by saying that the three most dispiriting words in the English language were ‘Joyce Carol Oates.’ “

I concur wholeheartedly, always have, primarily because there is no suggestion in Vidal’s typically waspish comment that Oates is not talented, able, or accomplished. I have always tried to be impressed, enjoy her books, but I just…well, don’t and I’m not. And I think dispiriting sums it up perfectly. I finish her works and remain unmoved, uninspired. But this isn’t the point. The point is she is a superb, accomplished writer. And Jack of Spades is no exception.

The book is narrated from the point of view of Andrew J Rush – a commercially successful author, ‘the gentleman’s Stephen King’. And very quickly within a page (or screen) or two we realise we are dealing with a narcissistic sociopathic bore. As the book progresses however, it gradually becomes clear, that not only does Rush have a split personality, but he is a psychopath. And this is Oates’ great achievement here-her sketch of Rush is a masterpiece of characterization.

Oates has Rush compare himself, ad nauseam, to Stephen King….

Reportedly he’d( King) just laughed –‘ Who’d want to be the gentleman’s Stephen King anyway?

(Was this a condescending remark from a literary legend, tantamount to brushing away an annoying fly, or just a good natured re joinder from a fellow writer? As Andrew J. Rush is himself good-natured individual, I chose to believe the latter.)


He has also written under the pseudonym, Jack of Spades, whose works deal with horror-rape, murder, extreme depravity .

Of the two, it is Jack of Spades who thinks more highly of himself as a writer, or “visionary”;


Jack of Spades is a superb book. It is well suited to Oates bloodless, surgical style. Still not my thing, but at the end of the day, that’s not really the point.



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