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The Plot (2021)

by Jean Hanff Korelitz

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5435734,608 (3.66)37
  1. 00
    Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel (akblanchard)
    akblanchard: Both novels are good summer reads, full of twists and turns

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Jacob Bonner has published one well-received novel, but now several years later is having trouble following through with another book. To get by, he is teaching creative writing. Evan Parker, one of his students, tells Jacob that he doesn't really need to learn writing skills because he has the perfect plot for a book, a plot which can't help but make the book a bestseller. Ultimately he discloses this perfect plot to Jacob, and Jacob tends to agree with him.
Fast forward a couple of years, and Jacob's career has gone even further downhill, when a chance encounter reminds him of Evan Parker and his perfect plot. As far as Jacob is aware, Evan has not published a book. A quick google search soon tells him why: Evan died shortly after attending the creative writing course at which he revealed the plot.
Jacob decides to write a novel using the perfect plot. It's not plagiarism, he decides, because he's creating his own characters, setting, and details, merely using the bare bones of the plot. The book is published, and it's a wildly successful bestseller. The book tour goes on for years, media rights are sold and Jacob becomes fabulously wealthy. And then: a note, "You are a thief."
The rest of the novel is a psychological thriller as Jacob tries to determine who knew the plot was Evan Parker's and what they want from him. The story of Jacob's investigation alternates with excerpts from the novel Jacob wrote, so that as the investigation proceeds, we learn what this perfect plot actually is.
This was a diverting read, well written, and there were no false notes to draw me out of the story. Recommended.

3 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | Nov 28, 2021 |
Okay, so this is really 3.5 stars from me. I fully understand not giving anything away too early, but this book held everything too close to the chest far too long. And further, things were pretty much figured out by the time they were spelled out so there wasn't even the OMG! moment. Jacob met Evan at a "third-rate MFA program" and heard Evan's unbelievably never heard before story! Jacob is an author struggling to write his latest novel and is somewhat bitter that this guy has this great idea. When he hears later that Evan has died, he decides to write his own version of the plot, and then begins getting anonymous messages that this person knows Jacob is a plot thief and plagiarist. I had a hard time really even liking Jacob until 5/6 way through the book -- he is kind of a self-centered jerk. Pretty much everyone in the book is objectionable in one way or another. I get that not everyone is Little Mary Sunshine, but hasn't Korelitz ever had a good encounter with a decent human being??! ( )
  relorenz1064 | Nov 21, 2021 |
I have always enjoyed straying into metafiction, and this novel offers a rich example.

Jacob Bonner scored a critical success with his first novel, published during his twenties, but he has never managed to follow it up with anything of similar quality. He did manage a volume of short stories, published through a university press, but he has never managed to complete another novel to his own satisfaction, far less succeed in having one published.

On the back of that early success, he has managed to establish a passable career as a teacher of creative writing, participating in various residential courses around the country. At one of these he encounters a particularly unpleasant student to whom he takes an instant dislike. He is, therefore, disappointed to find himself impressed with a sample of the student’s writing – he had been looking forward to tearing it apart and putting the man in his place. The student takes Jacob’s positive comments for granted, and explains to anyone who will listen that he has a brilliant plot in mind, and that it is a matter of when, rather than whether it will materialise into a bestseller. Before the course ends, he gives Jacob a synopsis of this allegedly brilliant plot. Jacob grudgingly acknowledges that it could probably work, and thinks no more of it.

A few years later, confronted with another equally unpleasant student, Jacob remembers that earlier encounter, and realises that the anticipated bestseller had never in fact materialised. Driven by curiosity, he does a quick internet search on his former student, and is shocked to discover that he had died, without ever bringing his novel to fruition.

A few more years down the line we catch up with Jacob on an exhausting tour across America, given talks and readings from his runaway bestselling novel, written by himself but utilising the plot that he had heard so long ago. He has just negotiated the sale of film rights to Steven Spielberg, and he is financially secure for the rest of his life. Everything is looking rosy … until he starts receiving messages from someone who claims to know what he has done.

Ms Korelitz’s novel is very powerful, and gripped me from the first few pages. This often happens, but was particularly noteworthy in this case as, having been subjected to considerable hype about the book, I was probably feeling slightly disinclined to like it. The hype is, however, entirely justified.

The plot (of The Plot) is tightly drawn and carefully developed, and the novel has as many twists as Jacob’s creation. It also offers some amusing insights into the author’s role within the publishing machine. While their creation and inspiration may be the fuel on which the whole machinery runs, they are often treated as little more than a commodity.

After a lifetime of reading thriller, I did spot some of the twists, but far from all of them, and thoroughly enjoyed the book, despite my earlier determination to remain aloof. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Nov 15, 2021 |
2021 book #67. 2021. Jake is a washed up writer teaching a graduate writing course. An arrogant student outlines a plot which Jake later turns that plot into an insanely great selling book. Then he starts getting emails calling him a thief. Good story with some great plot turns. ( )
  capewood | Oct 26, 2021 |
Okay, I saw that and that coming, and maybe That, but I didn't see THAT coming until right as it unfolded.
Another eerie thing about this book is that it had settings in javaczuk's home area, where I went to (one) college, where an offspring lived, a place where we lived and something else, none of them big areas,5 out of 5 were rural/backwoods/country. ( )
  bookczuk | Oct 26, 2021 |
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Good writers borrow, great writers steal.
—T. S. Eliot (but possibly stolen from Oscar Wilde)
For Laurie Eustis
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Jacob Finch Bonner, the once promising author of the "New & Noteworthy" (The New York Times Book Review) novel The Invention of Wonder, let himself into the office he'd been assigned on the second floor of Richard Peng Hall, set his beat-up leather satchel on the barren desk, and looked around in something akin to despair.
“You hear hoofbeats in the park, do you think horses or zebras?”
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Average: (3.66)
1 5
2 6
2.5 10
3 38
3.5 24
4 65
4.5 17
5 20

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