ARC Review: “The Plot” by Jean Hanff Korelitz

the plot by jean hanff korelitz book cover from goodreads, background image from unsplash by Gulfer ERGIN
Original background cover photo credit: Gülfer ERGİN on Unsplash

Jacob Finch Bonner, the once promising author of the “New and Noteworthy” (The New York Times Book Review) novel The Invention of Wonder, let himself into the office he’d been assigned on the second floor of Richard Peng Hall, set his beat-up leather sachel on the barren desk, and looked around in something akin to despair.

The Plot, Chapter 1 opening

Author: Jean Hanff Korelitz
Publication Date: May 11th 2021
Publisher: Celadon Books
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Find it on: Goodreads

Many thanks to the author, Jean Hanff Korelitz, and publisher, Celadon Books, for providing a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Jacob Finch Bonner was once a promising young novelist with a respectably published first book. Today, he’s teaching in a third-rate MFA program and struggling to maintain what’s left of his self-respect; he hasn’t written–let alone published–anything decent in years. When Evan Parker, his most arrogant student, announces he doesn’t need Jake’s help because the plot of his book in progress is a sure thing, Jake is prepared to dismiss the boast as typical amateur narcissism. But then… he hears the plot.

Jake returns to the downward trajectory of his own career and braces himself for the supernova publication of Evan Parker’s first novel: but it never comes. When he discovers that his former student has died, presumably without ever completing his book, Jake does what any self-respecting writer would do with a story like that–a story that absolutely needs to be told.

In a few short years, all of Evan Parker’s predictions have come true, but Jake is the author enjoying the wave. He is wealthy, famous, praised and read all over the world. But at the height of his glorious new life, an e-mail arrives, the first salvo in a terrifying, anonymous campaign: You are a thief, it says.

As Jake struggles to understand his antagonist and hide the truth from his readers and his publishers, he begins to learn more about his late student, and what he discovers both amazes and terrifies him. Who was Evan Parker, and how did he get the idea for his “sure thing” of a novel? What is the real story behind the plot, and who stole it from whom?

Hailed as breathtakingly suspenseful, Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Plot is a propulsive read about a story too good not to steal, and the writer who steals it.

From Goodreads


Book Content Warnings: overdose, teenage pregnancy, underage relationship, suicide, separated family, abortion, stalking, blackmailing

The Plot is one of the best-written mystery-thriller reads I had the pleasure of picking up in 2021. Slow to progress but deep in emotion, author Jean Hanff Korelitz carefully builds reader paranoia and anxiety alongside that of main character Jacob (Jake) Finch Bonner as he reaches his own breaking point in this suspenseful story. This book is exceptionally crafted and offers an interesting reflection opportunity. Readers are probed to consider- where and when, if ever, does a writer’s responsibility to share a story come to play? And where is the line between inspiration and plagiarism?

“But if you spend even a few minutes with other people’s stories and learn to ask yourself: What if this had happened to me? Or What if this happened to a person completely unlike me? Or In a world that’s different from the world I’m living in? Or What if it happened a little bit differently, under different circumstances? The possibilities are endless…Get out of your own head and look around. There are stories growing from trees.”

The Plot, pg 72

The synopsis covers the plot outline brilliantly. Main character and writer Jake is suffering in his work and at a loss for inspiration. That is until an arrogant student, Evan, shocks Jake when he shares the high level outline of his original future best-seller plot. Years pass and when Jake learns Evan apparently died without publishing his incredible idea, Jake struggles with the moral decision to claim it as his own. When he eventually produces the book, a stream of steady blackmail plagues him and begins to cloud his personal life. Readers stew in Jake’s stress and series of breakdowns up through the end when the culprit is revealed.

Author Jean Hanff Korelitz does a wonderful job cultivating reader sympathy for Jake, investment in his blooming relationship, and burning distaste for the anonymous blackmailer. The writing was exceptionally high quality, and the suspense well executed. Although you know early on that the story was ‘stolen,’ readers only get to hear pieces of the famous story as the book progresses. This was a clever way to tie the inner story into the meta plot and keep readers turning the page to discover its significance. At any point the blackmailer could choose to reveal Jake’s source. Jake is on pins and needles managing his publisher relations team, persuading them that the increasingly public outcry is the work of an unhinged internet troll. But Jake is a sensitive man. The weight of this looming threat builds and readers wonder whether he can handle the secrets he’s now forced to manage.

Although this book is quite slow moving, I enjoyed the writing and concept so much that I didn’t mind. If you’re hooked by the premise, I’d recommend giving The Plot a try over a long relaxing weekend!


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