O'Connell, Jack 1959-
O'CONNELL, Jack 1959-
PERSONAL: Born December 25, 1959, in Worcester, MA; son of James W. (in business) and Eileen C. (a registered nurse; maiden name, Hackett) O'Connell; married Nancy Murphy (a school psychologist), July 8, 1982. Education: College of the Holy Cross, B.A., 1981.
ADDRESSES: Home—91 Longfellow Rd., Worcester, MA 01602. Office—554 Pleasant St., Worcester, MA 01602. Agent—Nat Sobel, Sobel Weber Associates Inc., 146 East Nineteenth St., New York, NY 10003.
CAREER: Jim O'Connell Insurance Agency, Worcester, MA, beginning 1981; writer.
AWARDS, HONORS: Mysterious Discovery Award, Warner Books/Mysterious Press, 1991.
Box Nine (novel), Warner Books/Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1992.
Wireless, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1993.
The Skin Palace, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Word Made Flesh, Harper Flamingo (New York, NY), 1999.
Contributor of short stories to periodicals, including New England Review.
SIDELIGHTS: Jack O'Connell writes genre-bending, literate noir thrillers set in the fictitious Massachusetts city of Quinsigamond. Often suffused with dream imagery and subtle nods to postmodernism, O'Connell's stories nonetheless exhibit the conventional techniques of the thriller: unexpected plot twists, obsession with the seedy and unspeakable, and heroes who must examine themselves in order to solve crimes or save their skins. "I take characters who I genuinely care about and I put them in a pressure cooker."
O'Connell won the Mysterious Discovery Award for his first novel, Box Nine, the story of a female detective who seeks the purveyors of a drug that causes murderous rages. His second book, Wireless, explores the world of radio "jammers" who target controversial talk show hosts for death. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that the book is peopled by "the weirdest collection of dysfunctional oddballs this side of TV's Twin Peaks."In The Skin Palace, an experimental photographer and a filmmaker with ties to the mob chart a path to each other through a labyrinth of pornographers, evangelists, and feral children. "This dense, illusory novel will propel readers into a dreamlike state," observed Booklist reviewer Wes Lukowsky. The reviewer also found the work "intensely" compelling.
Word Made Flesh had its advent as one of O'Connell's simplest narratives, but over the course of its production the author brought many literary influences to bear upon plot and sensibility. "This dense allegorical novel rigorously moves through an unfamiliar, labyrinthine dystopia, but eventually the puzzle pieces fall into place," maintained a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The story, once again set in Quinsigamond, revolves around a sadistic book collector and a hapless ex-detective who collide during the course of a murder investigation. Booklist correspondent Thomas Gaughan called Word Made Flesh "a wildly original novel" enhanced by O'Connell's "gracefully orotund narrative style."
In the Worcester Phoenix, Laura Kiritsy described O'Connell's Quinsigamond as "a city filled with shady dealings that take place in the dark shadows of decrepit factory buildings, all-night diners, and seedy nightclubs. Corruption, madness, and murder are not merely the ills of urban living, they are lifestyle choices. Inhabited by exiles, misfits, crooks, and the criminally insane, Quinsigamond is brewing with people who have some sordid tale that they're (sometimes literally) dying to tell, and it seems that words just aren't sufficient to get the point across." O'Connell does not deny that his fictional city has been influenced by his lifelong residence in Worcester, Massachusetts, but he is quick to add that all of his work is filtered through a fertile imagination. "I don't plug the nuts and bolts of my city into my book," he explained in an interview with Crime Time. "Instead, I let my imagination warp the city, enlarge it. I pillage its DNA and radiate it until it glows neon." Elsewhere in the same interview he said: "I see my books as transcriptions of what I call the dreamlife. Books are visions, even when they're banal visions. They come into the world by way of an obsessive process wherein compulsive individuals spend inordinate amounts of time in self-imposed solitary confinement, hearing voices and transcribing those voices."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 1996, Wes Lukowsky, review of The Skin Palace, p. 797; April 15, 1999, Thomas Gaughan, review of Word Made Flesh, p. 1483.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April, 2000, James Sallis, review of Word Made Flesh, p. 36.
New York Times Book Review, February 2, 1992, Marilyn Stasio, review of Box Nine, p. 19; January 7, 1996, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Skin Palace, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, November 15, 1991, review of Box Nine, p. 66; September 20, 1993, review of Wireless, p. 64; October 30, 1995, review of The Skin Palace, p. 47; May 3, 1999, review of Word Made Flesh, p. 67.
Crime Time, http://www.crimetime.co.uk/interviews/jackoconnell.html/ (April 11, 2003), interview with author.
Worcester Phoenix, http://www.worcesterphoenix.com/ (August 27, 1999), Laura Kiritsy, "Grime Story: Descending into Quinsigamond in Jack O'Connell's Word Made Flesh Is One Scary Taxi Ride."*