American author Jean Hanff Korelitz, whose first book A Jury of Her Peers was released in 1996, is probably best known for the books that have been adapted for the screen. Her 2010 novel Admission was made into a film starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd and her 2015 novel You Should Have Known was recently adapted by HBO into The Undoing, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. This is all to say that she may have some insight into the publishing industry which is partly the target of her latest book, The Plot.
Jake Finch Bonner is a failed author. While his first book received good notices her could not follow it up and finds himself as a creative writing teacher in a small academic institution in Vermont. One semester he meets the arrogant Evan Parker, a student who claims he has nothing to learn and what is more, he has the plot to a novel that is guaranteed to be a best seller. A few years later Jake discovers that Parker died soon after they met, so he decideds to write his own novel based on the plot that Parker outlined to him. Where the narrative takes off is when Jake’s book Crib does indeed become a best seller and the movie rights are optioned. Jake’s life turns around spectacularly, but he also starts to receive emails threatening to reveal that the book was “stolen”.
While The Plot is written like a thriller it is essentially a morality play. The question being: how much to authors owe to those who came before them, and how much can a plot idea be “owned” by anyone (can you copyright an idea?). It is clear through the book that Jake wrote the novel (it was not plagiarised) but the problem he has is the way he has sold his inspiration and the media circus around his success. At the same time, Korelitz takes plenty of opportunity to take digs at the writing fraternity, the publishing industry and the related media circus.
Where The Plot falls down a little is as a thriller with the “killer twist” (or two, if you count the twist in Jake’s bestseller Crib, excerpts of which break up the main narrative). Korelitz tries to play fair with the reader which means, if you are paying attention, the big reveal should become fairly obvious reasonably quickly. But more than that, Jake wrote Crib, he should know what the twist in that narrative is, and yet in order for the reader not to be spoiled, his investigations proceed as if he himself does not know how that story ends.
But even though Korelitz is clearly going for the gasp-inducing twist, there is much more to The Plot. And it is these dimensions – the moral dilemma, the dive into the publishing world – that lift this above the usual domestic thriller.