Eric K. Anderson reviews Joyce Carol Oates’s novel Jack of Spades in Bearing Witness: Joyce Carol Oates Studies.
Joyce Carol Oates has considered the issues of authorship and identity at length in both her fiction and nonfiction. For several years, Oates published novels of psychological suspense featuring twins using the pseudonym Rosamond Smith and, later, three thrillers using the pseudonym Lauren Kelly. In an essay titled “Pseudonymous Selves” from her 1988 nonfiction collection (Woman) Writer: Occasions and Opportunities, Oates observed “It may be that, after a certain age, our instinct for anonymity is as powerful as that for identity; or, more precisely, for an erasure of the primary self in that another (hitherto undiscovered?) self may be released.” In Jack of Spades, Oates’s protagonist is a respected writer named Andrew J. Rush who has been dubbed the “gentlemen’s Stephen King” by the press. As a man in his fifties with an established literary reputation, Rush unleashes just such an undiscovered self by creating the pseudonym “Jack of Spades.” Using this name, he has published several lurid thrillers that no one would associate with his more highbrow public self. As with all pseudonyms, the secret is difficult to maintain, and when Rush’s hidden persona is under the threat of being revealed, his life goes awry.