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 McBrides 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
hes 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 Matts
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 Matts 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.