Review: The Plot

3.5 out of 5 stars

Is this book really good? Or really bad? It depends on how you feel about “the plot” at its heart. The Plot, by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Jacob Finch Bonner is a Writer. Or, more accurately, he wrote one thing of some significance and is now paralyzed by the fear of sophomore slump. He’s the kind of Writer that gets a capital W: more about the pretense of being one than actually writing anything. While scraping the nearly faded glow from the corpse of his dream, Finch is teaching a writing workshop. There he meets a student so dazzlingly confident in his own story idea that he disdains everyone. In his arrogance, this student tells Jacob the broad strokes of his plot.

Then the student dies. And Jacob writes the student’s plot himself.

The book containing this purloined plot is massive success. Think Where the Crawdads Sing. Okay, it’s more The Girl on the Train. And Jacob alternates between basking in the glow and remembering that someone could find out what he did.

The Plot unfurls what’s happening to Jacob at the same time it reveals the actual plot that he stole. We read about what’s happening to him as we read what he wrote. And he did write it. Jacob only got the broad strokes from his student. The words on the page and all the gaps filled in are his own.

The story he stole, the story he wrote, and the story Jacob is living all collide. Twists and turns abound. They’re all solid: I predicted some, but not all. It’s not The Sixth Sense, but it’s also definitely not The Lady in the Water. Or The Village. Jeez, no wonder Jacob’s character fears the sophomore slump. He’s probably seen of M. Night Shayamalan’s movies.

So, questions. Is the story of Jacob stealing, writing, and selling this story better than the story itself? Jean Hanff Korelitz thought of both these ideas. Would she have been better off writing herself the book which she gives to Jacob in the story?

I say no. I liked the double-layer of it. I especially liked that we don’t learn the twist in Jacob’s stolen plot until nearly the end – and it isn’t till then I really appreciated how good the idea was. It’s easy to say that this character wrote a great book. It’s another thing to share what’s in the book-within-the-book, and have it actually be really freaking good. At best, Korelitz places one strong plot atop another to reach higher. At worst, she wasted what could have been a separate (and very successful) idea by burying it inside another book.

The second question is: What is plagiarism? Jacob didn’t think of his plot. But he did write the words. He added and arranged and sewed the whole thing together – and that is the work that become the hit. What part of that final product is his? What part is stolen? Think of all the reimagined fairy tales being written today. Are they thieves, or is what they’ve repurposed so obvious that no one thinks they’re claiming credit?

Of course, there’s more to The Plot. There’s a nice, juicy twist that jumps right out of the stolen work and comes for Jacob. The truth will out, as one person wrote and many have repurposed over the years. And The Plot has truth that even it’s own writer doesn’t see coming.

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