Who owns a story? A plot? That is the core issue of this novel.
Jacob Finch Bonnen is a struggling writer who has fallen into teaching creative writings in MFA programs after publishing two novels. The first was well received and landed him on a list of new and noteworthy authors, and his second basically confirmed his place in the obscurity that can only be experienced by the once-great.
During a low-residency MFA program, he meets a student who changes his life. Evan Parker is a pain in the ass, but he has a good story. A story that eats away at Jake for a few years as he waits for the publication of this sure-to-be cultural phenomenon. But when the novel hasn’t come out, Jake discovers that Evan has died, leaving his miraculous plot up for grabs.
Two years later, Jake is a successful author with Oprah’s Book Club sticker on his cover and a feature film in the works, and he receives a message calling him a thief and a plagiarist. This sets him on a journey to discover the truth of the story and the faceless accuser.
Korelitz novel intertwines the story of Jake’s life with the plot of his unprecedented book, which felt like a risky move. I can’t remember where I read it, but there is a problem faced by any book, film, tv show, etc. that tries to make a case for the fictional art in their story being exceptional. If that sentence was as confusing to you as it was to me, what I mean is if a film tries to make a case for a fictional painter being the greatest artist in the world, there is pressure to create something great out of nowhere, and the bar is really high. I think I read this theory when someone analyzed the difference between Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and 30 Rock. Studio 60 tried to tell the story of the behind the scenes of a great television show. If the show was ever not that great, it distracted from the main storyline of the directors, actors, producers, etc. On the other hand, 30 Rock never claimed to be about a great television show. In fact, TGS was embarrassingly bad, which made the whole concept work much better.
Anyway, I was worried that Korelitz’s “revolutionary plot” would be a disappointment. Turns out, it was actually very intriguing. In fact, this is a fantastic book about books from a writer writing about writing.
I would say more, but it’s more fun to discover the mystery alongside Jake…