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The Plot: A Novel Hardcover – May 11, 2021
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** NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! ** The Tonight Show Summer Reads Winner ** A New York Times Notable Book of 2021 **
"Insanely readable." ―Stephen King
Hailed as "breathtakingly suspenseful," Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Plot is a propulsive read about a story too good not to steal, and the writer who steals it.
Jacob Finch Bonner was once a promising young novelist with a respectably published first book. Today, he’s teaching in a third-rate MFA program and struggling to maintain what’s left of his self-respect; he hasn’t written―let alone published―anything decent in years. When Evan Parker, his most arrogant student, announces he doesn’t need Jake’s help because the plot of his book in progress is a sure thing, Jake is prepared to dismiss the boast as typical amateur narcissism. But then . . . he hears the plot.
Jake returns to the downward trajectory of his own career and braces himself for the supernova publication of Evan Parker’s first novel: but it never comes. When he discovers that his former student has died, presumably without ever completing his book, Jake does what any self-respecting writer would do with a story like that―a story that absolutely needs to be told.
In a few short years, all of Evan Parker’s predictions have come true, but Jake is the author enjoying the wave. He is wealthy, famous, praised and read all over the world. But at the height of his glorious new life, an e-mail arrives, the first salvo in a terrifying, anonymous campaign: You are a thief, it says.
As Jake struggles to understand his antagonist and hide the truth from his readers and his publishers, he begins to learn more about his late student, and what he discovers both amazes and terrifies him. Who was Evan Parker, and how did he get the idea for his “sure thing” of a novel? What is the real story behind the plot, and who stole it from whom?
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From the Publisher
AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR
At the risk of sounding too meta, how did you come up with the plot of The Plot?
JEAN HANFF KORELITZ: Like most writers I’m fascinated by plagiarism and the murkiness around creative appropriation: chefs stealing recipes from other chefs, comedians helping themselves to other comedians’ jokes, academic theft, and above all creative writers appropriating work by others. I’m hardly the first novelist to write about this — there’s an entire sub-genre of Stephen King work on this theme — and it’s not the first time I’ve touched on it in my own work, but it’s the first time I’ve placed it front and center in a book. I think it makes sense to write about the things that fascinate us.
While writing this book, you must have put yourself in the shoes of the main character. Do you think you’d ever steal a genius idea for a book if you knew it would never be used?
I wouldn’t, but only because I’m squeamish by nature and I’d be terrified about that degree of exposure and disapproval. But like most artists, I also understand that stories run underneath the ground of our collective experience, and we all dip into them, whether we’re aware of it or not. The real question is: At what point does a collective story become the individual property of a person or an artist? A contender for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Drama was The Inheritance by Matthew Lopez, which openly adapts Forster’s Howards End to contemporary New York City. This is a normal, even laudatory practice, which artists fully understand. But to help yourself to the specific plot of a recently deceased author who never completed his book? I don’t know where the line is, exactly, but I’m pretty sure that’s over it.
Selected as an Indie Next pick for May
A most anticipated book (AARP, Business Insider, Bustle, CrimeReads, Entertainment Weekly, LitHub, the New York Times, Oprah Daily, Parade, PopSugar, Wall Street Journal Magazine, and more!)
"The Plot is one of the best novels I’ve ever read about writers and writing. It’s also insanely readable and the suspense quotient is through the roof. It's remarkable."
"My favorite book of 2021? This one is easy. 'The Plot' by Jean Hanff Korelitz...[G]ood Lord is this a fantastic book. In addition to being an absolutely perfectly told mystery story, it also happens to be an especially deft satire of the literary scene."
―Malcolm Gladwell, "My Favorite Things of 2021"
"The Plot is so well-crafted and compelling it’s nearly impossible to put down. Clever and chilling, this page-turner grabs you from the first chapter and doesn’t let you go until its startling, breath-taking conclusion."
―Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, New York Times bestselling authors of The Wife Between Us
"From its first pages, Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Plot ensnares you in a rich tangle of literary vanities, treachery and fraud. Psychologically acute and breathtakingly suspenseful, you’ll find yourself rushing towards a finale both astonishing and utterly earned."
―Megan Abbott, Bestselling author of Give Me Your Hand
"The plot of ‘The Plot’ ― the best thriller of the year (so far) ― is too good to give away"
"So clever, so taut, so dazzling, I read it in about five hours flat."
―Lisa Jewell, AARP's "11 Top Authors Pick the Best Books of the Year"
“Korelitz’s own plot is fiendishly clever, and here's the ultimate twist: that any novel about a writer’s life (lonely, anxious drudgery) could be this wildly suspenseful and entertaining.”
―People, Book of the Week
“As a longtime fan of Korelitz’s novels (including “You Should Have Known,” which was made into HBO’s “The Undoing”), I will say that I think The Plot is her gutsiest, most consequential book yet. It keeps you guessing and wondering, and also keeps you thinking: about ambition, fame and the nature of intellectual property (the analog kind).”
―The New York Times Book Review
“'The Plot' is wickedly funny and chillingly grim...it deserves to garner all the brass rings."
―The Wall Street Journal
"Gripping and thoroughly unsettling: This one will be flying off the shelves."
“Deep character development, an impressively thick tapestry of intertwining story lines, and a candid glimpse into the publishing business make this a page-turner of the highest order. Korelitz deserves acclaim for her own perfect plot.”
―Publishers Weekly (STARRED Review)
"Readers may find themselves batting away sleep and setting an alarm for early the next day to continue Jean Hanff Korelitz’s propulsive literary thriller, The Plot. Korelitz is an audacious writer who delivers on her promises. Her next big-screen adaptation surely awaits."
"Korelitz...effortlessly deconstructs the campus novel and, much like Michael Chabon in Wonder Boys (1995), acerbically mocks the publishing industry. Fearless Korelitz presents a wry and unusual joyride of a thriller full of gasp-inducing twists as it explores copyright, ownership, and the questionable morals of writers."
“Stay tuned to this devilishly compelling tale of ambition run amok.”
“This staggeringly good literary thriller is about a staggeringly good literary thriller written by a failed novelist who has stolen the book's plot from a deceased student.”
"The author behind suspense novel You Should Have Known turned-HBO-series The Undoing outdoes herself in this literary-centric thrill ride."
“Korelitz pulls off a true page-turner with, yes, a killer plot.”
- Publisher : Celadon Books (May 11, 2021)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 125079076X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1250790767
- Item Weight : 1.15 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.6 x 1.16 x 9.72 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #25,184 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on August 16, 2021
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I saw the twist coming a mile off. Well, about halfway through the book, to put it more accurately. And up to that point, I kept wondering what all the fuss was about. After all, The Plot is a story about a plot within a plot. Yes, it’s a story about a writer. And how many writers have written books about writers? Do we need another one?
A story that’s up for grabs
Here’s the problem. The mystery in The Plot revolves around a clever murder story that an author desperate for a bestseller bases on a tale told to him by someone else. The author, Jacob Finch Bonner (“Jake”), is teaching a creative writing class, and the tale comes from one of his students in a consulting session. Then, months later, the student—a tavern owner in a small town not far away—dies of a drug overdose without ever writing his novel. And years after that, Jake figures the story is up for grabs. He writes what proves to be a runaway #1 New York Times bestseller.
Is this plagiarism?
Then someone starts trolling Jake on Twitter and Facebook, accusing him of plagiarism. The troll even writes to Jake’s publisher demanding they take the book out of print and confess the crime. But what’s the crime? Of course, it’s frowned upon to take another’s ideas and represent them at his own. And if you copy someone else’s writing—the words—that can be a crime. But, despite all the nonsense that’s floating around these days about “appropriation,” I don’t see the problem here. Jake read only a few pages of the student’s novel, and he changed all the details in what he remembered. Anyway, you can’t copyright a plot any more than you can copyright a title. He wrote every single word of his book. Every one was original.
So, does Jake just laugh it off, as he should have done, and explain to everyone who asks how the story came to him? After all, people always ask writers, “Where do you get your ideas?” All he had to do was tell interviewers the crazy story about how the idea came to him. But no. He freaks out. And then things start going from bad to worse as the troll keeps coming, again and again. And the plot within a plot unwinds to a grim conclusion that should be a big surprise.
About the author
Jean Hanff Korelitz is the author of eight novels and three other books as well as a portfolio of work for film, television, and the theater. She holds degrees from Dartmouth College and Clare College, Cambridge. Korelitz was born in New York City in 1961 and raised there. She is married to Irish poet Paul Muldoon, with whom she has two children. They live in New York City.
This is a well-paced, dark thriller, with a glimpse into the world of publishing, exploring the complex motives and ambitions of authors seeking notoriety and all that entails. A good read.
Time passed by. Jacob's career as a writer continued to languish. One day he thought about Parker's plot and wondered why he had never heard about the proposed book. After some googling, he found an obituary for the condescending former student. Further research revealed there were no relatives save one niece, with whom it appeared he had no contact. As readers will figure out on their own as soon as they read about the death (so this is not much of a spoiler), Jacob could not help himself. He wrote a book, truly his own work, word for word, but based on the storyline about which Evan Parker had bragged. As Parker had predicted, Jacob's book raced to the top of the charts. All was going well until someone started emailing Jacob that he had stolen a plot and would be exposed. Jacob thought the threats were all about plagiarism, but he was totally wrong. The anonymous email writer had much more skin in the game. And that my friends, is the real plot. Enjoy this thriller by Jean Hanff Kavelitz.
Top reviews from other countries
The final ‘reveal’ was one of the most predicable ones I have ever encountered! And the pace of this… the pace was infuriating. For example, we get introduced to Jacob and his new students at Ripley, we start connecting with the characters and story and then… boom! We’re now months into the future and, by the way, forget about those characters that were previously introduced.
Then the ‘story’ within the story, the famous plot! What a bore that was. A snooze-feat.
Finally, the amount of parentheses. So many parentheses! Especially at the beginning. It’s like a paragraph couldn’t end without a parenthesis.
I’m giving this 1/5 even though I finished it; even though the writing was, for the most, part good. I’m giving it 1/5 because it could have actually been a great book. The author clearly is a good writer! But, if this book shows us anything, is that not even good writing can save a bad plot.
1) Firstly, and most importantly, I was able to figure out fairly early on in the book that one of the characters wasn't who she portrayed herself to be. As the book crossed over the half way point, it just became even more obvious, SO obvious, who this character was. So there was no mystery here, no 'who dunnit'. I figured it out quite early on, which usually doesn't happen! There were no real twists or turns in this book.
2) This book needed a good editing. This author is fond of writing very long sentences, that go on and on and on. I sometimes had to go back and read the sentence from the beginning again to make sense of it. The author also comma splices (putting commas where there should be full stops), but then misses commas where they are needed (after sentence openers).
3) This is just personal to me. Take it or leave it. The author just couldn't help, now and then, but to insert her left-wing real life views in the book. For example, one paragraph in the book had Jake wondering if he should contact Twitter about TalentedTom's tweets. However, he changed his mind after reminding himself that Twitter was protecting a certain president (in regards to something about senators and receiving blow jobs), so they would be unlikely to help him. What?! What was the author talking about? (All I can say is that Trump Derangement Syndrome is still a real thing, lol!) And mentioning Rachel Madcow? LOL. Anyone with an IQ above a rock wouldn't take her biased 'journalism' seriously.
Now, in regards to improving the actual plot of this book, I would have written the ending as follows. (Spoiler alert ahead). In the last chapter of the book, we would have discovered that Jake is alive. We, the reader, would learn in the last chapter that Jake had decided, somewhere along the way, to investigate his wife's background story, because it was so unusual and he was curious. He would have discovered inconsistencies and would have then hired a private investigator to continue the research. The research would have concluded that Anna wasn't who she said she was. Jake would have confided in his publisher (can't remember the character's name), who would come to have deep reservations and suspicions about Anna and take Jake under her protective wing.
In the end, Jake would not have quite realized, that final evening, exactly who Anna was. However, after she tries to kill him and leaves, he would've been saved (just in the nick of time, of course), by his publisher. The publisher would've had concerns when she couldn't reach Jake that evening, and would've gone to his apartment. She would've known that Anna had caught a flight out to Seattle, and her spidey senses would have been tingling. She would've had her own key to Jake's apartment (as their suspicions about Anna had increased), and upon opening the door, she would've discovered Jake unconscious and gotten him medical help just in time.
So the last chapter would've been this surprise revelation to the reader and would've concluded with Anna's complete shock when she was arrested.
Well, I just thought of the above in a few minutes, but I honestly believe it would've been a better twist to the plot than the actual novel!
The main character is a likeable anti-hero: his literary ambitions are believable enough that we are almost prepared to forgive his act of plagiarism and to go along with his attempts at self-justification, and there is a satisfying irony in the fact that the success he has always dreamed of does not bring him the happiness he had hoped.
The novel is very compelling overall with plenty of twists along the way. One of the ways that Jean Hanff Korelitz sustains our interest is by withholding the details of this supposed 'greatest plot ever' for most of the story. There's perhaps a bit of an anticlimax when we do find out what this amazing twist is, as I'm not sure it quite lives up the hype that the novel creates around it, and the final twist is perhaps a little bit predictable. Nevertheless, this is a well-written and very engrossing read.
As many of the reviews here have pointed out, the identity of the villain is painfully obvious from early on, so their eventual unmasking hardly qualifies as a plot twist. This might not matter too much was not so much made of the reputedly jawdropping twist in the book-within-the-book that the protagonist – it seems inappropriate to call him the hero given he's such a jerk – has filched from his deceased student. If you're going to describe a book as being so ingenious that it's guaranteed to become a bestseller, then you need to have an ace up your sleeve to prove it. And then you need to have another one in your main narrative to top that one. But there's nothing here that's going to give M Night Shyamalan any sleepless nights.
Ultimately what sunk the book for me was that I simply couldn't work out the motivation for the blackmailer beyond an injured sense of proprietry. Given that there was no way they could be identified in the heavily fictionalised version of their life story, surely their trolling emails accusing the writer of plagiarism would be more of a risk to them than the author? The most he could be accused of is having a questionable set of ethics, whereas they have far more reason to want to keep the past under wraps.