A short review for a short book

Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates is a book so clearly full of influences, and yet as it is based on plagiarism, it’s gone all the way back round to being original. I got this quick read out of the library, and finished it in one sitting on a night shift.

Andrew Rush is a successful novelist that likes to be described as ‘The gentlemen’s Stephen King’, who lives in a nice house with his wife, and is a Jaguar-driving pillar of the community. Then one day, he is accused of plagiarism, and taken to court by an eccentric, angry, elderly lady who throws fits in public. Instantly I was minded of Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen King, which was adapted into a film in which John Turturro turns up on Johnny Depp’s doorstep and says ‘Yew stowle mah storee’ (excuse my terrible, non-specific, southern state accent).

But Stephen King is mentioned a lot, so the resemblance seems part of it. Just as Edgar Allan Poe is frequently referenced, and so when there’s a freaky black cat and stolen items call from their hiding place, it makes sense. And rather like in Secret Window, Secret Garden, Rush is not a reliable narrator. What’s real and what’s in his head is always debatable, but to add another dimension, Rush has an alter-ego-author that also writes gruesome horror stories that are deeply depraved, and even his wife and family have no idea. He’s keeping secrets all over the shop, and properly going off his trolley.

It’s hard to say too much about this book without spoilers, but if you fancy a short page-tuner that operates on quite a few levels that lets you feel clever when you spot things, this is it.

And behold, a montage to celebrate the many wonderful styles of Joyce Carol Oates, from a bouffant Betty, to my mum in the eighties when perms were a part of life, to Hogwarts professor. She always looks great.