The-Plot-by-Jean-Hanff-Korelitz

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz. New York: Celadon, 2021, 322 pages.

Can the plot of a book be stolen? And what are the consequences of that action?

Jacob Finch Bonner was once a promising young novelist. Now, he barely makes ends meet with his job as a teacher at Ripley College, a low-residency MFA program in Vermont. One session, Jake encounters a particularly arrogant student, Evan Parker, who claims that he has a story that is a sure thing. Jake is doubtful until the student shares details, and the plot is as unexpected and compelling as promised. This only depresses Jake further, because even if he does write another mildly successful novel, it will never be as good as that one.

Three years pass and Jake is still struggling both with money and writing. He remembers his old student and wonders why he has never seen him on the bestseller list. A quick google search reveals that Evan Parker died only a couple of months after their class ended. He was predeceased by his parents and sister and it can be assumed that the proposed novel was never completed. The temptation is too much and Jake begins writing, using Evan Parker’s plot.

Fast forward another three years and Jake is on a whirlwind book tour promoting his bestseller, Crib. A book about the difficult relationship between mother and teenage daughter that contains a twist that nobody can stop talking about.  In fact, movie rights have already been purchased by Steven Spielberg. After a guest spot on a radio show, Jack meets an intriguing producer.  A quick courtship results in marriage and a full social life in vibrant New York City. Life should be perfect, except that someone has made the connection between Evan Parker’s idea and his bestselling novel.

At this point, the book transforms into a suspenseful thriller as Jake desperately contends with an unknown antagonist. The hunt for the person behind the emails, social media posts, and letters that threaten to destroy Jake’s reputation will take him up and down the east coast. Each uncovered puzzle piece will be more unsettling than the last. The eventual reveal will not take a perceptive reader by surprise, but the journey will still be satisfying.

The book grapples with the issues of ownership and morals.  Jake knows that his actions were morally dubious, but he can also rationalize his behavior. As the book mentions, many novels are rewrites of other stories, Shakespeare, fairy tales, or mythology. Completely original storylines are few and far between. However, it cannot be disputed that Jake knowingly took a story idea without ever acknowledging the source. The question of whether he was technically in the clear will make an excellent book club discussion.

Amanda Gramley is the Adult Programming Coordinator with the Alamance County Public Libraries.  Contact her at agramley@alamancelibraries.org.