Molly Marks is a very pretty young woman who has never been able to get her life together. She has taken hundreds of courses in various disciplines but doesn’t exactly have a degree in anything from anywhere. She has held lots of fairly glamorous-sounding jobs since the age of nineteen: actress, model, girl Friday for half a dozen people in the entertainment world, freelance interviewer for a series of trendy publications. But she’s always been overqualified and bored. She has chosen the suburban town she lives in “because it has no disagreeable associations,” and she makes no effort to recall the number of men with whom she has been involved, casually or otherwise.
Now, almost twenty-eight, she is still waiting for her life’s vocation to declare itself. She is waiting for someone or something to come along and tap all that potential. But in the meantime she decides to give psychiatry a try. Maybe that will help anchor her, get her on the right track.
She enters therapy with Dr. Jonathan McEwan: handsome, serious and maybe too deep-down good to be true. Very shortly thereafter they acknowledge a mutual attraction, stop the therapy (he tells her there was never much wrong with her in the first place), and become lovers. Finally they decide to move in together.
Their first night in the new apartment—the best night of her life so far, Molly thinks—Jonathan absentmindedly mentions that he, whom she had thought an only child, has a brother. Not just a brother, but an identical twin. Not just a twin, but one who is also a psychiatrist.
Jonathan claims he never mentioned James before because his existence is an unimportant fact. The brothers aren’t close, he says; actually, they don’t speak. Naturally, Molly is intrigued. And because she is who she is (and maybe because she discontinued therapy), she seeks out the other McEwan brother and, using an assumed name, enters into therapy—and then an affair—with him too.
What follows is a quirky little psychological thriller—almost a working out of the riddle about the two tribes, one of which always tells the truth, while the other always lies. As Molly struggles to clarify what is “true” about both the brothers and their mysterious past as well as her own motives and desires, a tale unfolds that is not only a satisfying mystery, but also has a lot to say on various contemporary topics from self-delusion to self-destruction.
In February Jonathan flies to La Jolla for a week-long conference; the third day of his absence Molly receives a mysterious package in the mail, stamped special delivery and special handling. When she opens the package she nearly faints—inside a Styrofoam container decorated with glossy Valentine hearts is what appears to be an actual heart . . . prune-sized, raw, bloody, with a child’s arrow stuck through it.
In James’s hand on the accompanying card: Dear Molly Marks, Danton gives you his heart herein; as I assure you, I do mine. XXXXX J. McE.
- Kirkus Reviews, September, 1987, p1348
- Publisher’s Weekly, October 30, 1987, p51
- Booklist, November 1, 1987, p418
- Library Journal, January, 1988, p100
- New York Times Book Review, January 3, 1988, p5
- Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 31, 1988, p9
- Books, January, 1989, p16
A Sad Joyce Carol Oates Forswears Pseudonyms
Pronouncing herself surprised and very disappointed that her literary cover had been blown, Joyce Carol Oates said she would never again try to write a book under a pseudonym. She tried it this once, she said yesterday, because “I wanted to escape from my own identity.”
The book is “Lives of the Twins,” a short psychological mystery supposedly written by Rosamond Smith. It is scheduled for publication in November by Simon & Schuster. The pseudonym is a feminization of the name of Miss Oates’s husband, Raymond Smith, a publisher….
“Lives of the Twins,” Miss Oates said, originated with a mystery detective novel she wrote a few years ago, ”Mysteries of Winterthurn.”
“I became fascinated with the genre and thought I’d like to do something along those lines,” she explained. “Last summer I wrote a psychological mystery, quite short, very experimental. I think of it almost as a prose movie. It moves very swiftly and it’s very different from what I think of as a traditional novel.” ‘I Wanted a Fresh Reading’
“Pseudonymous Selves” by Joyce Carol Oates
Like the experience of first authorship, writing under a pseudonym gives one the sense of discovering oneself by way of redefining oneself, even if it is only for the space of a single book. There is the possibility, however quixotic, of making a fresh start—in Romain Gary’s words, “renewing” oneself—and not being held to severe account for it.
Lives of the Twins’ British double was published in 1988 as Kindred Passions. This version had an altered ending:
The white wings threatening to open in her brain . . . but Molly is in control. Molly is going to remain in control.
‘Stop!’ she cries. ‘Both of you. Don’t come any closer.‘
As if this is a gesture, an action, she has practised many times, and has now only to recall, Molly draws the gun out of her shoulder bag, and raises it. How heavy it is, and how her hand shakes; and what shock, what incredulous horror, registers in the twins’ faces! The one on the left—is it Jonathan?—is the more astonished, raising his hand as if in mute appeal; the one on the right—ah, surely this is James—stares at her, and frowns, his arms at his sides as if daring her to shoot. She has warned them but after hardly more than a moment’s hesitation an eerie sort of momentum seems to urge them toward her. Both are speaking to her, reasoning with her, cajoling: she hears her name repeated like an incantation, a lover’s refrain: ‘Molly. Molly. Molly.‘ They are asking her to give up the gun; commanding her—but how can they dare?—to give up the gun. She realizes that, without needing to consult each other, the twins are acting uniformly, and shrewdly: one edging toward her from the left, the other, the more daring of the two, approaching from the right, along a slightly raised spit of sandy beach. In another several seconds one will have distracted her so that the other will be in a position to seize her and take the gun from her . . .
But Molly is too smart for them. For after all Molly knows them both.
It is the man on the right at whom she aims, the man who has ruined her life, and suddenly, without quite knowing what she does, she tightens her finger on the trigger: and the gun kicks in her hand: and a terrible roaring fills her ears. Someone shouts, someone screams in surprise, in pain, in terror, and the man—is it James?—or is it Jonathan?—staggers backward, and falls to the ground. The other, in the beige sweater, has stopped frozen in his tracks.
Molly’s eyes are blinded with tears. And the roaring, the terrible roaring, in her head . . .
‘I warned you didn’t I! I warned you both!’
One man lies motionless on the sand, the other stands staring in disbelief at his fallen twin, and at Molly. How appalled he looks, and how guilty: for of course it is James. Molly sees in an instant that it is James. James, her enemy. James who is still standing while Jonathan has fallen.
It is over. She throws the gun down at her feet.
It will be our secret, then.
For after all there will be no witnesses.
Except you. And me.
Sweet Molly Marks.
I'm a Reference Librarian at the University of San Francisco's Gleeson Library, and I run the Joyce Carol Oates web site, Celestial Timepiece.