Skip to main content

The Plot


The Plot

After all the advance buzz for it, I was aware of the plot of, um, THE PLOT by Jean Hanff Korelitz for some time before I actually read this finely paced novel. I wondered how the author would carry it off for reasons I will get to later, but carry it off she does, and quite well.

Jacob Finch Bonner is the mover and shaker at the heart of THE PLOT. A somewhat unsympathetic protagonist, Jake is the author of The Invention of Wonder, a novel that heralded great promise for him, but it never materialized. His second book, a collection of short, interconnected stories, was little known and less read. In the early pages of the book, we find Jake functioning for the fourth year as a faculty member of a college’s low residency creative writing program. One of his current students, Evan Parker, is obnoxious, abrasive and remarkably self-assured. It’s somewhat of a mystery as to why he is even in the program.

"Think of getting two books literally for the price of one, both of which are immediately readable and unforgettable."

Parker shows Jake eight pages of his work in progress, which displays an ability to write quite well, despite prose that no one will be very interested in reading. The hook, according to Parker, is the plot of his story, which he believes will be so irresistible and popular that it will make him a literary success. When he eventually hears the plot, Jake cannot disagree.

The program ends. Time passes. Jake occasionally looks for a book by Parker, but it’s never published. Upon learning that he died a few months after the program concluded, Jake decides to write a book using the plot that his former student created. It should be noted that only the expression of an idea, and not the idea itself, can be copyrighted. Jake sits down, does the heavy lifting --- being careful not to use the eight pages that Parker showed him --- and writes a bestselling and acclaimed novel titled Crib. He does readings, signings and media interviews, and works on a new novel, which is a slow and sluggish process.

Jake finds a girlfriend who becomes his wife, but he also gains an anonymous online stalker who knows way too much about where and how he got the idea for Crib. This individual keeps accusing Jake of plagiarism, a charge that people initially ignore until the repetition attracts some notice, including that of his agent and publisher. The harassment raises two immediate questions: Who is behind this, and what do they want? Both questions --- and many more --- are eventually answered.

Korelitz presents great chunks of Crib within the pages of THE PLOT and eventually reveals to the reader the details of the plot that Jake and Bonner thought was so terrific. Think of getting two books literally for the price of one, both of which are immediately readable and unforgettable. I guessed a couple of plot elements, including a major one, but never would have arrived at the plot of Crib if chained to a typewriter to pound away at for all eternity. I won’t give it away and hope you won’t either, even if you read it before all your friends do. And believe me, they will.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 14, 2021

The Plot
by Jean Hanff Korelitz