The Plot landed on all the 2021 best-of lists and now that I’ve read it I understand why. Jean Hanff Korelitz strikes again with her clever and devious novel.
I read and raved over her 2014 book, You Should Have Known (made into the HBO show The Undoing and reviewed here). Korelitz is an excellent writer; her books just seem to roll out before the reader, with thoughts, asides, passages, and ruminations all beautifully weaved into the action.
The Plot is an enjoyable plot-driven novel, not quite a thriller or a mystery but there is a mystery and there are several thrilling plot twists. It’s thought provoking as well – later on I’ll talk about a connection I made to Dream Girl, a book I read and reviewed earlier this year.
I listened to the audiobook version of The Plot and the narrator’s tone was spot-on for the main character. Kirby Heyborne’s portrayal of Jacob “Jake” Finch Bonner was perfect, at once whiny, insistent, pleading, and relentless. All the voices were distinct and Heyborne skillfully propelled the story forward.
Jake is an author who hit literary heights just once with a NYT “New and Noteworthy” novel but has struggled ever since. He’s now the esteemed writing instructor at a cozy college in northern Vermont but he’s frustrated and irritated, especially with one of his students, the arrogant and ungrateful Evan.
When Evan boasts of his can’t-miss plot idea it just adds to Jake’s stress. There’s no doubt: it’s a perfect plot and the novel is going to be a success. Oprah book club and movie option level success. But it never hits the market and after Jake learns that Evan has died he does the unthinkable: he steals the story and writes the novel himself. No one else knows about it so no worries, right? Wrong.
Jake meets Anna at a radio station where he’s giving an interview. She’s a fan of his and they hit it off but he’s keeping something from her. Someone is onto his secret and has started to make threatening contacts. Jake makes himself crazy trying to figure out who is tormenting him, all while juggling lies and deceptions.
The Plot moves forward with Jake’s story alternating with chapters from his novel, The Crib. Little by little the reader goes deeper into Jake’s unraveling world. At the same time the twisted family story and the plot itself is revealed. Be prepared to gasp. Twice.
I won’t tell you anymore. Read this book for the story and for Korelitz’s prose, which is beautiful and insightful. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Here’s the connection that got me thinking:
Both Dream Girl and The Plot feature male authors as the main characters. Both have had some success but their insecurity and neediness are next level! Their endless ruminations, clarifications, second-guesses are just…not attractive. Lippman and Korelitz are celebrated authors who both run in top literary circles so they have to know what they’re talking about. I’m so curious and nosy to know if these are true portrayals of some of the fellow authors they’ve met?!
I refuse to believe that any of my favorites would behave this way. Say it ain’t so Donald E. Westlake (RIP), George Pelecanos, Robert B. Parker (RIP), Stephen King, Barry Eisler, Andrew Pyper, and Michael Crow.