reviewed by Cara DiCostanzo
“Good writers borrow, great writers steal.” –T. S. Eliot
Imagine, if you will, a best-selling author, down on his luck now, presented with a plot that he knows will be a bestseller. What if a few years down the road, he can publish that book and it becomes a smashing success? This is the plot of Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Plot.
Jacob Finch Bonner once had a bestseller. Then he wrote another book that didn’t sell as well. Then his third book is rejected by his publisher. Now he is at Ripley College, an unknown small liberal arts college, teaching in an MFA program, and more than a little bitter about it. On his second day there, one of his more obnoxious students, Evan Parker, tells Jacob he has the plot of a bestseller. At first, Evan refuses to tell Jacob anything about the book, worried his story will be stolen. Once he does, Jacob realizes he does, in fact, have a bestseller, and is incredibly jealous.
A few years down the road, Jacob is the manager at an in-residence writing retreat, still not having written that second elusive bestseller. When faced with another difficult writer, it reminds him of Evan Parker, and he uses the computer to find out that Evan passed away shortly after the MFA program. He realizes that the bestseller they talked about was never written, and an idea forms in his head. After all, no one “owns” a plot. He justifies that there are so many books written off of Shakespeare plots. What could go wrong?
The book “Crib” is a wild success, as Jacob knew it would be. It is fourth on the bestseller list and he is doing book signings and interviews all over the world. It is beyond his wildest dreams. But then he checks his email one day and there is one message, “you are a thief” from Talented Tom. Jacob knows that Evan Parker had no living relatives. Or did he? The threats become more and more frequent as Talented Tom takes to Facebook and twitter to alert readers that this is not Jacob’s book. Jacob is now married, having met Anna at a radio station he did an interview for. He hides the threats from her, not wanting to alert her to how “Crib” was written. Jacob investigates Talented Tom and drives to Vermont, where he finds out more than he ever wanted to know about Evan Parker and his family. He then discovers more about his student and it terrifies him. Jacob realizes that the plot Evan Parker described to him may actually have a life of its own.
The Plot switches back and forth between Jacob’s story and chapters of the actual book “Crib.” I am hearing a lot of buzz about this particular novel and I can see why. While the first two chapters move slowly, the book takes off and never stops. Korelitz’s writing style is lush and flows easily. The last chapter of The Plot is one that we never saw coming and the epilogue is both terrifying and surprising. Amazing.