Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz — be careful what you wish for

Title: The Plot
Author: Jean Hanff Korelitz
Publication: Celadon Books/Macmillan, hardcover, 2021
Genre: Suspense
Setting: Present-day United States
Description: Jacob Finch Bonner had always wanted to be a writer, that is to say, a published author, admired by readers. He did manage to produce The Invention of Wonder, which got mentioned in the New & Noteworthy section of The New York Times Book Review and generated some nice reviews but only modest sales. His second book was a bomb. Now Jake ekes out a living teaching creative writing although he despises the individuals he is supposed to be mentoring. Then he meets an obnoxious wannabe writer who has an amazing plot. Jake recognizes its potential and is envious but it’s not until he hears Evan Parker has died that Jake yields to temptation and writes his own version of Parker’s story.

Jake’s book with its purloined plot is incredibly successful and he receives all the praise and attention he had yearned for. But now he has a terrible secret that threatens to prevent him from enjoying the attention.  It's bad enough when only Jake knows what he did.  Until one day he gets an anonymous email accusing him of being a thief . . .

My Impression: Although this started slowly, it turned into a nerve-wracking novel of psychological suspense. The author does a great job of depicting Jake as smug, arrogant, and despairing at the same time. He is dismissive of the graduate students/aspiring writers who pay for expert editors but instead get indifferent Jake who barely reads their literary efforts. The reader feels Jake’s frustration when this loser Evan Parker appears with a great plot – even if Parker can’t write, Jake is sure the plot could transcend indifferent prose to become a bestseller. Then, when Jake takes the plot and achieves the success he has always dreamed of, he is tortured by someone who knows his shameful secret.
Back when he’d dreamed, so long ago (not even a year ago!) of being a “successful writer,” had he not pictured these very things? Audiences, stacks of books, that magical “1” beside his name on the fabled list at the back of The New York Times Book Review? He had, of course, but also hoped for the small, human connections that must come to a writer whose book was actually read: opening one’s own books, writing one’s own name, holding it out to a singer reader intent on reading it. Was it wrong to want these simple, humble rewards? Hand to hand and brain to brain in the marvelous connection that was written language meeting the power of storytelling? He had these things now. And to think: he had acquired them with only his hard work and his pure imagination.

Plus a story that might not have been entirely his to tell.
There are many entertaining touches, including the contrast between Jake’s former agent who stopped responding after his second book’s failure and the agent of the blockbuster new book who won’t stop asking him when he’ll deliver another. Naturally, I enjoyed the publishing bits; I hadn’t read anything by Korelitz previously but she knows the industry and has been successful: one book was made into an HBO moving starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant and another inspired Admission, which starred Tina Fey. And her skill as a writer made me began to sympathize with Jake and wonder how he could extricate himself from his tangled web before he is exposed and humiliated. Even when I guessed what was happening, I was still unsure exactly what the author had in mind. Ultimately, I liked but was not blown away by this book.
Source: Library. This is my eighteenth book for the Cloak and Dagger Challenge.


Lark said...

I've heard mostly positive things about this one. I haven't read it yet, but I do have it on my TBR list. :)

Ruthiella said...

I am definitely going to read this... the question is when! If I buy it for my mom, that might be the way to get it on my TBR sooner than later. The plot of The Plot reminds me a little of the play/movie Deathtrap by Ira Levin.

Vintage Reading said...

Oh has this been published in the UK now? I've been waiting to read this. Loved all her books since Admission. Enjoyed reading your review.

CLM said...

I think it is being published in the UK later this month, Vintage.

Ruthiella, aren't the best gifts the books we read first?

Lark, I liked but did not love this - on the other hand, I really wanted to know what would happen in a sort of train crash kind of way.

TracyK said...

Very interesting to learn about this author. I was not aware of her.