While I always enjoy reading, I find myself hard-pressed to find books that are chilling, deceptive, imaginative, fantastic, and memorable—all at once.
But when I came across this book, which Stephen King called, “Insanely readable” and “one of the best novels [he has] ever read about writers and writing,” I knew I had to give Jean Hanff Korelitz’ The Plot a read. Now, I can completely understand why it earned King’s praise.
I graduated with my MFA in Poetry back in 2015, and all of the feelings I have carried with me from that program are reflected in the early pages of The Plot: self-doubt, dare I say Imposter Syndrome, competitiveness, and even envy against writers who are further along in their journey, wondering if my work will ever be noticed or rise to the top… When Korelitz opened her story with such a relatable writer, at a low-residency writer’s program, feeling these writerly feelings, I knew I was in for it.
What I didn’t expect was what the plot of the story would be, why the front cover featured a ground-up view of a graveyard plot, or why I would later compare this story to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, and even Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story and by equal turns Secret Window, Secret Garden.
The story follows emerging novelist, Jacob Finch Bonner, who produced one bestselling novel that left him on the “authors to look out for” list… but when he failed to produce a shining follow-up novel to stay on that high road of success, Bonner quickly found himself sliding off into the inspirationless background where he found himself teaching budding writers at a low-residency writing program and envying his writing comrades who found success.
That was until Evan Parker walked into his class, ironically unwilling to learn anything from the workshop he was paying to attend. Parker refused to share more than a few pages of his work with Bonner, claiming he had come up with a plot that was a “sure thing”: a bestseller, a worldwide read, with a guaranteed movie deal, all the achievements a novelist could hope for.
Bonner was ready to dismiss Parker’s “sure thing”… until he heard the plot.
It was undeniable that Parker was right about the plot he had developed, and Bonner knew to expect it on bestselling shelves as soon as it was published. But several year passed, and there had been no book. After a little searching, Bonner discovered his student had died just months after the writer’s program ended, his unbelievable story left unfinished.
Bonner decided to do the only reasonable thing he could think of: to tell the story that deserved to be told. And the book was as successful as anyone could have hoped for. But at the height of his career, Bonner began receiving anonymous messages, claiming he had stolen and told a story that was not his to tell. After months of research, Bonner found himself deep down a rabbit hole of secrets and violence with a person who never wanted to be found.
The Plot is at once a suspense-thriller uniquely set in the literary world of writing, self-doubt, and publication. There’s doubt and deception, violence, and unreliable narrators galore. Not to mention the metafictional element of a bestselling plot, one that a reader could never see coming… contained inside Korelitz’ novel, which will surely be a bestseller and which has an ending that I did not fully anticipate.
Also, without giving too much away, this book performs deftly with one of my favorite literary devices: homonyms, or multiple-meaning words. The word “plot” is at once the subject of Korelitz’ novel, the haunted factor of the book Bonner writes, the story that was stolen from someone else, and multiple… locations… throughout the novel. It’s truly a spell-binding journey for what many take to be such a simple word.
I’m quick to compare this book to Gone Girl with its slow-burning sensation and spectacular writing of an antagonist. But both books also fantastically, hauntingly question what is real, what is dangerous, and what to do when someone uncovers what you have done… The difference, really, is in the ending. For those who have read Gone Girl, they may recall how the protagonist ultimately “rethinks” their stance on a certain subject, and there is this horrible moment of “reunification.” I half-expected a turn like this in the final pages of The Plot and was surprised, chilled, and enraged to discover an even darker, if admittedly far more fitting, ending.
This book equally called Little Fires Everywhere back to me throughout my reading and untangling of The Plot, largely for its deliverance of female characters, their motivations, and their complexities that were so often dismissed in fiction less than a handful of years ago. But there’s also this unique erasure effect in Little Fires Everywhere of women moving from place to place, hiding themselves, taking up new identities, covering up the things they have done — there’s a resonance, here, even if from two very different corners of literary fiction.
If it isn’t clear yet, this book was an incredible read, unique, and impressive in its undertaking. It’s at once eerie and startling, while also morbidly human and questionable, and it’s always ready to turn the reader on their head again. Whether or not you’re interested in the literary scene does not matter; if you like a unique tale, this is definitely the next book to pick up.
JEAN HANFF KORELITZ was born and raised in New York City and educated at Dartmouth College and Clare College, Cambridge. She is the author of the novels: The Plot, You Should Have Known (Adapted for HBO as “The Undoing” by David E. Kelley, directed by Susanne Bier and starring Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant and Donald Sutherland), Admission (adapted as the 2013 film of the same name, starring Tina Fey, Lily Tomlin and Paul Rudd), The Devil and Webster, The White Rose, The Sabbathday River and A Jury of Her Peers, as well as a middle-grade reader, Interference Powder, and a collection of poetry, The Properties of Breath. A new novel, The Latecomer, will be published by Celadon Books in 2022.