Ellie’s Book Review – The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Ellie’s Book Review – The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Two For One!

The premise of The Plot is in no way new: a novelist, experiencing a prolonged “writer’s block” encounters a mind-blowingly good plot concept, appropriates it and writes a blockbuster best-seller. So yes, it’s been done, many times, and often, quite well (kudos to Stephen King for Finders Keepers – but recognize that he is only one of many who have played with this concept.) So the idea of “book theft” is neither original nor a big deal. As the author posits in the words of the protagonist, author Jacob Bonner – there are only seven basic plot concepts and every book features one or a combination of them. The real issue is the skill with which the author fleshes out the chosen concept.

Early on in the book, I thought Korelitz did this really well. Though the plot was familiar, she introduced it in an almost leisurely but detailed fashion that was at least convincing, if not compelling. It had enough draw to keep me well-anchored to my reading. Halfway through however, the book lost its lustre for me because I wasn’t connecting with the cast. Jacob Bonner emerged almost exclusively as a character driven by grasping ambition seasoned with prolonged anxiety. Being an author myself, I recognize these as almost inevitable by-products of our profession – if one doesn’t fight it. From my perspective, Jacob had no fight in him, and my respect for him diminished accordingly. His spinelessness made the introduction of his love interest, Anna Williams, unconvincing. What did this woman see in him? And why? Anna seemed minimally drawn – a kind of paper doll inserted as a plot device rather than someone with whom the reader might bond.

But I kept reading, because Korelitz was such a tease – frequently alluding to the plot twist that was so powerful that Jacob had overcome his scruples and instead, “stole” it. What the hell was this twist? I had to keep reading, hoping that Korelitz wouldn’t bail and never reveal it.

She didn’t, and the twist in the secondary story (the one Jacob Bonner presented in his novel Crib) was indeed a very good one. But that twist paled compared to the one awaiting me towards the end of the “real” story – a twist that allowed me to see what I had previously perceived as weak character development, as instead, a masterstroke of invention. Like all masterful plot twists I’ve encountered, once I FINALLY saw it coming (only a few pages before it became explicit) it was accompanied by the “OMG! How could I not have seen this coming?” reaction I’ve experienced throughout my life when well and truly surprised by a writer (think of A Prayer for Owen Meany – the ultimate twist for me, which actually caused me to shriek aloud while reading in a bus!).

So in The Plot, you get TWO great plot twists, a tremendous amount of foreplay, and a great climax. Five stars – read it!

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