Summary and book reviews of Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates

Jack of Spades

A Tale of Suspense

by Joyce Carol Oates

Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2015, 208 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2016, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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About this Book

Book Summary

An exquisite, psychologically complex thriller about the opposing forces within the mind of one ambitious writer and the line between genius and madness.

Andrew J. Rush has achieved the kind of critical and commercial success most authors only dream about: his twenty-eight mystery novels have sold millions of copies in nearly thirty countries, and he has a top agent and publisher in New York. He also has a loving wife, three grown children, and is a well-regarded philanthropist in his small New Jersey town.

But Rush is hiding a dark secret. Under the pseudonym "Jack of Spades," he writes another string of novels - dark potboilers that are violent, lurid, even masochistic. These are novels that the refined, upstanding Andrew Rush wouldn't be seen reading, let alone writing. Until one day, his daughter comes across a Jack of Spades novel that he has carelessly left out and begins to ask questions. Meanwhile, Rush receives a court summons in the mail explaining that a local woman has accused him of plagiarizing her own self-published fiction. Rush's reputation, career, and family life all come under threat - and unbidden, in the back of his mind, the Jack of Spades starts thinking ever more evil thoughts.

1   The Ax

Out of the air, the ax. Somehow there was an ax and it rose and fell in a wild swath aimed at my head even as I tried to rise from my squatting position and lost my balance desperate to escape as my legs faltered beneath me and there came a hoarse pleading voice—"No! No please! No"—(was this my own choked voice, unrecognizable?)—as the ax-blade crashed and sank into the splintering desk beside my head missing my head by inches; by which time I'd fallen heavily onto the floor, a hard unyielding floor beneath the frayed Oriental carpet. I was scrambling to right myself, grabbing for the ax, desperate to seize the ax, in the blindness of desperation my hands flailing, and the voice (my own? my assailant's?) high-pitched and hardly human-sounding—"No! Nooo"—a fleeting glimpse of the assailant's stubby fingers and dead-white ropey-muscled arms inside the flimsy sleeves of nightwear, and a grunting cry as of triumph and ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Reading (enjoying) Oates’ outstanding first person story about a famous author’s descent into madness made me wonder if there is such a thing as a bildungsroman for alter egos. A kind of coming of age tale about a person’s internal demon that spends a lifetime as a (mostly) harmless, toothless, nascent being that suddenly blossoms into full adulthood. What a delicious – to us horror fans – idea. I wish I had thought of it. Thankfully I didn’t have to. Oates thought of it first. And Jack of Spades is wonderful. Understated, but infinitely more powerful for it.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

Full Review (747 words).

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Media Reviews

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Suspenseful, fast-moving.

Tampa Bay Times

Entertaining, page-turning . . . [A] perfect summer read.

New York Times Book Review

Just when you think you’ve got her all figured out, Joyce Carol Oates sneaks up behind and confounds you yet again. She does it with a wicked flourish in Jack of Spades.

The Seattle Times

Oates is smooth—so smooth that readers barely notice how she tightens her silken noose of a plot around their throats.

O, The Oprah Magazine

Oates’s latest suspense tale follows the psychic takeover of Andrew J. Rush . . . by the secret persona he uses to pen lurid genre novels. For added fun, Oates garnishes this machismo-laden struggle with a leavening pinch of one of her favorite feminist topics: witchcraft.

Kirkus Reviews

With its homages to Poe ... and the horror masters Jack of Spades so admires, this latest unsettling and chilling thriller from Oates does not disappoint.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Sleek and suspenseful ... Readers are sure to be gripped and unsettled by [Oates's] depiction of a seemingly mild-mannered character whose psychopathology simmers frighteningly close to the surface.

Library Journal

Starred Review. As this tour de force reveals, Oates is a master of bleak literary fiction and its (sometimes) poor relation, crime/noir fiction.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Oh the Horror of It All! - Stephen King on Writing What You Know in Thrillers

Roller CoasterThe consensus across a wide swath of authors and writing teachers is "write what you know." This advice may be even more important when writing a horror story. Sure, horror stories characteristically feature things that are not known, not normal, unfamiliar in the extreme. That's why they exist. People like to be scared by things out of the ordinary. But we can only be scared within the context of what is familiar; by the juxtaposition of what we know and what we don't know. A roller coaster ride is only scary because we know the height of the creaking scaffold, the speed at which the rickety, flimsy little car is hurtling your fragile body through space, and the imagined splat of hitting the ground after brakes fail and the car ...

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Readalikes

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