The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

There are three things you need to know about my experience of reading Jean Hanff Korelitz’s latest novel, The Plot. First: Once I started, I did not want to stop. I took this book with me EVERYWHERE.

Second: I listened to this book, and the audiobook was excellent. Just putting that out there, in case the experience of reading the print book is vastly different.

Third: I found this book to be super predictable and yet it was RIVETING. I did not care that I knew what was going to happen, I had to find out HOW and I had to find out WHY. 

This book is really good. Just a fun, enjoyable, absorbing thriller.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Mini Plot Summary: Jake Bonner’s first novel achieved critical success, but never skyrocketed him to the level of Famous Author. His subsequent books are less well-regarded. To earn a living, Jake starts teaching at Ripley, a relatively unknown, low-residency MFA program. There, he meets a student who has a dynamite idea for a book. A plot that could sell a million books. A plot that even a terrible writer could turn into a best-seller. Over the years, Jake keeps wondering when the book will appear on the literary scene, but when it never does, he figures that his student simply never finished the manuscript. Then, as his own career continues to dwindle, Jake discovers that the student with the remarkable plot is dead. Jake figures that a writer can own his own words… but he can’t own the idea for a plot. And, he tells himself, a writer owes it to an idea – especially one as explosive as this one – to bring it to life. So he writes a novel – Crib – using his student’s plot. Just as he and the student suspected, the book is an immediate international hit. Jake’s entire life changes in an instant – he suddenly has the wealth and fame and credibility he always dreamed of. All because of this extraordinary plot. But someone knows that the plot doesn’t belong to him… and Jake needs to own up to his theft… or else.

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What I Liked About This Book: This was a good, solid, well-written, well-crafted thriller. It’s also a good example of how books don’t necessarily need to shock and surprise to still be captivating reads. While I figured out the main twist very early on, I still couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. In fact, knowing (or suspecting I knew) what Jake didn’t know heightened the tension for me. When would he uncover the truth about his blackmailer? Plus, while I guessed the broad strokes, there were lots of little details that made it absolutely fascinating to read. 

I also really liked the characterization. As a would-be writer myself, and a former writing teacher, I get really cranky about plagiarism. But I’m also aware that ideas occur to people simultaneously, and, as Jake points out, there are really only so many types of plots. Most books are variations on a handful of stories – it’s the details and the storytelling that make us keep reading the manifold variations on a single plot over and over again. This is all to say that I both strongly disagree with Jake’s decision to steal his student’s plot… and also, in some small way, understand it. I kept wanting to hate Jake, but I didn’t. He wasn’t the most likable protagonist I’ve ever encountered, but he wasn’t terrible. He seemed to have some good in him. So I didn’t mind being in his head for most of the book. He felt like a real person, with real complexity.

I also liked how the story unfolded – on the one hand, it was very linear, with all the detours into the past occurring in real time by way of Jake interviewing people about the past or reading old newspaper articles and the like; on the other hand, we got little snippets of Jake’s book Crib, which helped reveal what this exciting bestselling plot looked like, while also giving us insight into the blackmailer’s beef with Jake. 

I also loved the ending. It wasn’t surprising, but I found it very satisfying. Very. Satisfying. Indeed.

What I Didn’t Like About This Book: Jake was kind of an idiot. So much so that his naiveté veered very close to unbelievable, for me. I cannot say more. 

Should You Read This Book? If predictability is a dealbreaker for you, then I would skip this one. But if you don’t care about being surprised as much as you care about tight writing, compelling storytelling, and escalating tension, then you should definitely read this book. 

Audiobook Review: As I mentioned, I listened to this book instead of reading it in print. And it was so well done. The narrator – Kirby Heyborne – was excellent. He has kind of a quiet, soothing voice, and at first I wasn’t sure if I liked it at all. But very quickly, I realized that he is a very good voice actor. He did such a great job of making each character’s voice distinctive – even characters we met only briefly had their own distinct inflection or accent or speaking style. Plus, I felt like Heyborne really excelled at putting just the right level of feeling into each sentence – I never once felt like he was over-acting or was pulled out of the story because of him. In fact, I feel like he really enhanced the book for me. My only complaint is that he pronounced “Whidbey Island” as “Wid-bay Island.” I grew up visiting that island and always heard it pronounced “Wid-bee Island,” so it kind of grated on my ears. But I recognize that could be my mistake, or an acceptable alternative pronunciation, and I also know that even an awesome reader like Heyborne simply may not know how to pronounce it. So it doesn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the audiobook. In fact, I would give the audiobook narration five stars. I would definitely listen to more books narrated by Heyborne.

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