{short description of image}


Joyce Carol Oates writing as Rosamund Smith

Orion £9.99tdpbk

Review by Michael Carlson

{short description of image}

The question of why writers write in acknowledged psuedonyms must go deeper than mere market saturation (else they would remain anonymous, at least until one identity became famous), genre embarrassment, or just good old fashioned redundancy (like "The ABC Nightly News with Peter Jennings, starring Peter Jennings"). In the case of Oates as Smith, the most likely explanation is that this allows the author to begin a very challenging psychological horror novel, and just as it reaches its most interesting point, resolve it in the terms of the gothic romance.

Because the question of whether solid suburban businessman Matt McBride’s alter ego, the Weegee-like photographer Nighthawk, has actually gone beyond the mere taking of dark and haunting pictures, and perhaps allowed his obsession with the underbelly of life to lead him to murder. Because artist Duana Zwolle has been murdered, Matt knew her, and he’s in her diary as something more to her than he is able to remember, or admit, even to himself.

This situation puts his whole life at risk, and it boils down to that fascinating conundrum about how well any of us really know ourselves. Certainly that Matt might be an unwitting murderer is a more intriguing one that the one which Oates quickly throws in as a substitute, revealing to us who the killer is. This is still interesting: we watch Matt’s life crumble just as inevitably from suspicion, and from the revelations of his dark side, but the actual hunt for the real killer is not so compelling, nor is Matt’s eventual salvation through (admittedly still a bit bizarre) love.

We can only wonder whether, were this a ‘Joyce Carol Oates writing as Joyce Carol Oates’ novel, the fates of Matt McBride and Nighthawk might have been more tightly entwined, and what is an interesting novel might have been a memorable one.