Letting the Dark Step Out of The Shadows + Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates

imagesSpeaking from experience, those of us that spend our lives in our heads are slightly crazy. And, for me, when I use that time I spend in my head to create stories and worlds and characters that become a version of real, it can make reality even harder to grasp. I can just imagine, then, that those that write books under pseudonyms for whatever reason, are a whole another, higher-ratcheted form of crazy.

A name, your name, is your identifier. It’s been YOU for your life, its what the world knows you by. All your personalities traits, your likes and dislikes, are bound by your name. Even if you change your name, or take someone else’s last name, your name still defines who you are and where your boundaries lie.

It only follows that if you use a different name for a different part of your life, you might find a different personality lurking. Using a different name frees you from the constraints of your life (I would imagine). Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, well, that depends on you and your life, I guess.

The same must be true for those writers who decide to write under a alias.

Think about it: you make up stories and get them published. Maybe your genre is YA, maybe romance, maybe mysteries. But you still have these stories from other genres floating around in your head. Different. Darker. You don’t believe that they will be accepted under your real name, because you have a following that expect a certain type of story. So you create a nom-de-plume, and you write this different story under that name.

This frees you up, because suddenly the story progression that was expected is gone. If these new stories are decidedly different than what you usually write, I would think it would change you. Your darker side takes over a bit: you might start drinking heavily, or do some drugs, or even live your some darker fantasies. Whatever darkness lives in your soul, your alias lets it out, allowing it to get out and stretch its legs.

We all have that darker side, just waiting to get free. Those of us that live normal, traditional lives control it, mostly. We may reach that darker side just enough through music, reading, movies, paintings. That’s how we harness our dark side, but letting it out just a smidge, in primal, primitive ways.

But think about those that create that outlet: the artists. In order to create something that touches the shadows of our soul, they must travel beyond the shadows and bring something back. And when you’re creating, there is a chance to bring too much back, and it has a chance of infecting you. You give that dark side too much slack, and it will take over and run you.

Artists–writers, musicians, painters, actors–all visit the dark side. Visit it too much, and you might not come back.

And, to that point, here’s Joyce Carol Oates’s Jack of Spades.

In Jack of Spades, Oates takes on the dark part of a writer’s soul, and what happens when that darkness takes gets a toe hold and takes over.

The Premise

Andrew Rush is a prolific writer of mainstream mysteries, telling tales that are regularly on the bestseller list. He’s not at the top of the charts, but that’s okay, or so he tells us. Way too often.

But, unbeknownst to his family and friends, he is also the author of dark, brutish, masochistic series of noir mysteries by his nom-de-plume, Jack of Spades. He hides that side of himself in a secret room.

Jack, though, seems to be exerting himself more and more. It seems that Andrew has had a little writer’s block and is drinking more. His facade is slipping a bit, and his family is noticing his darker side.

And then he gets sued for theft. A local kook accuses him of stealing her work. The fact that she’s accused other famous authors (including Stephen King, an author Andrew Rush seems to have a love/hate relationship with) of the same (which really should be plagiarism, but she’s given up that route) seems to add to her kooky status.

Andrew, and Jack, seem to be unable to let that go. And, because of that, he (they?), find other things wrong in Andrew’s life. And the darker Jack starts to take more, and more, control.

My Thoughts

Joyce Carol Oates is one of those authors that writes great books, or she writes books that are not so great. She is an experimenter, and I love her for that, but her books are usually black or white for me.

This one was unusual, as it fell in the grey spectrum. I liked it, but I thought it was a rehash of other stories I’ve read, sort of. Andrew Brush seems to think he is better than he is (in life and as a writer), and Jack of Spades is horrible (in the best way).

I give it 3.5 stars, which makes it unusual for Oates (for me) in that she usually gets 1 star or 5 stars. I usually love or hate her stories. This one was good, just not great, but also not horrible.


One thought on “Letting the Dark Step Out of The Shadows + Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates

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