My boyfriend read The Plot (2021) by Jean Hanff Korelitz and recommended that I read it. Somehow I got it into my head that it was also one of President Obama’s recommended books from 2021, but I just checked and it’s not on his list. However, because of these recommendations (real and imagined), I started this book with pretty high expectations. It also helped that the Amazon blurbs had language like: “Insanely readable,” and “breathtakingly suspenseful,” which sounded promising.
Jacob Finch Bonner is our protagonist and a tortured writer. After a critical success with his first novel, any kind of career he had has floundered. Jake now teaches writing at the equivalent of an adult-summer camp writing program. He hates his job, has no hope for his students, and has lost all motivation for his own writing. It is at this writing program where he meets Evan Parker.
Evan Parker is obnoxious, rude, and egotistical. He acts like he’s better than everyone and refuses to share his writing with the rest of the class. But the one time he talks to Jake one-on-one, Evan tells him that he has an idea for a novel that will be a bestseller. He says no writer could mess this up and it will be a success no matter what.
I don’t want to go into much more detail in case you decide to read this. On the whole, I found this book disappointing. ***SPOILERS FOR THE REST OF THIS REVIEW*** I started with high hopes. I enjoyed Jake’s grumpy ennui and the description of the writing school in the beginning. The book also felt well written. My first problem came with the description of a plot of a book that had never been seen before and not even a bad writer could ruin. I’ve read plenty of books based on a fantastic idea that were ruined by bad writing, and every time it was incredibly frustrating. Yet I was still curious and eager to find out what kind of amazing plot was impervious to bad writing. It kept me going even though the pace of the novel could, at times, be slow.
As the book continued, I became more and more frustrated with Jake. He was terrified that he would be found out, and had basically ruined his own life by “stealing” a plot. I wondered why he didn’t just try to talk to Evan Hansen’s niece, and be honest from the start. According to the novel, it would have been a bestseller no matter what. And if he’s honest from the beginning, there is nothing to hide, and he doesn’t have to make himself miserable with fear.
Finally, the end of the book was the most disappointing. I was not convinced that writing a story about a mother who killed her daughter and took over her life would be riveting to most of the reading public, let alone so good that anyone could write it. In fact, it was so far from riveting that only small snippets of Jake’s novel were included in The Plot. I was also disappointed in the ending. We find out the killer, get fed a lot of exposition that supposedly explains everything, and then it’s over. I realize that some of my frustration was that I didn’t want the killer getting away with it. But I was also frustrated because she didn’t seem like a real person–or at least one that I could understand. Amy (?) from Gone Girl had much clearer motivations and consistent character. Gone Girl was also much more exciting to read. The Plot had some things going for it, and I liked the inside look into writing and publishing (even with the snobbishness of Jake and his brethren), but I felt that both the novel itself as well as the novel within a novel were overhyped.
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