Book Review: The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Book Review: The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I was drawn to The Plot by the cover. I try not to judge books by their covers, but the double entrendre of this one, with the book on the book cover and a burial plot in the background of the title, immediately captured my attention. And I did very much enjoy the layers of this story within a story, this nesting doll of layers that Korelitz presents here. But when the premise revolves around the writing of a book with a completely unique plot, one which is not a variation of the same handful of plots we’ve told and retold since before written language came to be, you don’t expect to guess the twist. Alas, that was my experience. The Plot sets out to deliver something new, and does to an extent, but I feel that it promised more than it was able to deliver.

“Good writers borrow, great writers steal. —T. S. Eliot (but possibly stolen from Oscar Wilde)”

I have never felt so convicted by a nonreligious work as I did by the very first chapter of The Plot. If you’re a reader who loves to daydream about being an author without ever developing the courage to actually try to write, or to send what you did manage to write out into the world, this book is a gut punch. It also speaks to the fear of rejection all artists face, whether in the first amateurish throws of their craft or after worldwide acclaim, when creating something new. The things The Plot had to say about writing and the cultural importance of stories and storytelling were definitely my favorite aspect of the book.

“You’re only as successful as the last book you published, and you’re only as good as the next book you’re writing. So shut up and write.”

Once we get past the philosophy of writing presented early on, and revisited throughout, we get to the actual premise of the story. Imagine being a young but already fading author, whose debut novel made a respectable splash in the literary world but who has never again managed to garner even a fraction of that response with further works. In desperation, you take a job teaching fiction writing in a third-rate MFA program to make ends meet. There, one of your most obnoxious students of all time shares with you his Sure Thing, a plot the likes of which has never been written. And yet, the book never materializes. When you find out that said book will never be written, wouldn’t you feel a responsibility to that phenomenal plot to write it yourself and share it with the world? This is the predicament in which Jacob Finch Bonner finds himself. As his life changes trajectory after he puts this Plot into the world, he gets a message that makes his blood run cold: someone knows he’s a thief. This is where the pace really cranks up, propelling readers toward (what should have been) a radical, shocking climax.

“Once you were in possession of an actual idea, you owed it a debt for having chosen you, and not some other writer, and you paid that debt by getting down to work, not just as a journeyman fabricator of sentences but as an unshrinking artist ready to make painful, time-consuming, even self-flagellating mistakes.”

I think what crippled this book for me were the characters. I don’t want to give away any more spoilers than the general synopsis; all of the information in the above paragraph can be found in the jacket copy. So I’m only going to discuss Jake himself. I found him to be an incredibly weak character. I understood his motivations, and even his actions to an extent, but he just felt like a pushover. I always pictured him cowering from life, which made some of his later actions less believable. Honestly, I was meant to be rooting for him, I suppose, but I found him slightly distasteful.

“I’ve learned so much about writers. You’re a strange kind of beast, aren’t you, with your petty feuds and your fifty shades of narcissism? You act like words don’t belong to everyone. You act like stories don’t have real people attached to them.”

As mentioned previously, I guessed the twist/reveal that was meant to be so shocking by a little over the halfway mark. This made for me battling frustration with Jake for not seeing what I saw through the rest of the story. I’ve read books that were far more straightforward that delivered better shocks. However, I will say that the ending Korelitz chose was really ballsy, and I very much respect that choice. The ending redeemed my frustration to an extent and recolored my experience with the book in a more positive light.

“I just care about the story. Either it’s a good plot or it isn’t. And if it’s not a good plot, the best writing isn’t going to help. And if it is, the worst writing isn’t going to hurt it.”

The Plot is an incredibly propulsive thriller, perfect for book lovers who enjoy reading stories about stories and the art of crafting them. It has a really solid twist that will undoubtedly make this a 4 or 5 star book if you don’t see it coming. I wasn’t a fan of Korelitz’s character development, but she really stuck her landing.

You can order this book from: Blackwell’s | (Support independent bookstores!)Amazon US | Amazon UK | Audible | (Another way to support independent bookstores!) | Book Depository (Free shipping worldwide!)

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