BookBrowse Reviews The Plot by Jean Korelitz

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The Plot

by Jean Korelitz

The Plot by Jean Korelitz X
The Plot by Jean Korelitz
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  • First Published:
    May 2021, 336 pages

    Paperback:
    May 2022, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Peggy Kurkowski
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A jaded writer finds a second shot at success in this whirlwind thriller that probes the nature of creative provenance and asks the question: Whose stories are we allowed to tell?

Everyone has a unique voice and a story nobody else can tell. And anybody can be a writer.

It is a saying Jacob Finch Bonner has repeated countless times with his students to nudge their hidden muses along the path of literary exploration. If it did nothing for his own inspiration as a writer, he hopes he can at least help others find and tell their stories. Once the promising author of a novel the New York Times Book Review covered in its coveted "New & Noteworthy" section, Bonner's future as a great writer is on the wane. Arriving on campus at Ripley College in northern Vermont, his past literary promise is reflected by the old maxim that those who cannot do, teach. But when he meets student Evan Parker, he discovers that some plots do not fit into the neat constellation of story arcs known among the literati. Indeed, some shine so brightly they can blind a person to the dangers in telling them.

So begins The Plot, Jean Hanff Korelitz's inimitable and imaginative story-within-a-story that sinks its claws in early and doesn't let go until its unforgettable finish. Korelitz, author of several novels including You Should Have Known (adapted by HBO into a miniseries called The Undoing) explores the insular world of her own craft — writers and their ideas — via a chilling twist perhaps as clever as the one Evan Parker shares with Jacob Finch Bonner at an MFA program one fateful day.

The Plot begins to unspool as Parker slumps his way into Bonner's office and arrogantly asserts his novel will be the next big thing, with a plot no one has ever seen before. When he finally discloses his "can't miss" idea, Bonner realizes the young man is correct: his story will be on every bestseller list and probably optioned for movie rights. How this indifferent young man, so unlike the other earnest and erstwhile students at the Ripley Symposia, created such an amazing plot is beyond Jake Bonner (who is struggling to finish his third novel). He bitterly expects to see the name "Evan Parker" in lights someday...but that someday never comes. Two-and-a-half years later and still working on the same unfinished novel, Bonner does an internet search for Parker to see what became of his "sure thing" plot. Instead, he finds his obituary. Parker died shortly after leaving the Ripley Symposia, and apparently, so did his story idea.

Korelitz's tight pacing leaves no room to breathe as Bonner grabs at the still-untold story and achieves in a few short years the fame, wealth and literary renown he always desired. As the dizzying effects of his success continue to carry him to new heights, he receives an anonymous email one day that leaves him horrified and hollowed out: "You are a thief." The cat-and-mouse game begins as Bonner tries to come to grips with his unknown antagonist and unravel the mystery of Evan Parker and the ultimate origins of his singular story — before it all comes crashing down around him.

A truly unique plot in its own right, the book is getting a lot of attention from the publishing industry, and indeed, it's a joy in part for its insider look at the writer's solitary craft juxtaposed against the hype and marketing of the publishing world. As story plunges into story (and plunges again the further Bonner investigates the genesis of Parker's idea), The Plot feels like a surreal exercise in life-imitating-art-imitating-life. It's a cerebral thriller sure to excite fans of Korelitz's other novels but also new readers curious about how writers get their ideas — and what price some might pay for them. After all, everyone has a unique voice and a story nobody else can tell. The Plot explores this quaint notion on a visceral and hyper-literal level to devastating effect.

Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in May 2021, and has been updated for the May 2022 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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