Jacob Finch Bonner (middle name borrowed for literary cache from the heroes of his favourite childhood book To Kill a Mockingbird) went from a New York Times “new and noteworthy” author to watch, to a struggling creative writing teacher producing very little of interest. Inspiration runs dry, and his hackles are raised when a bratty student boldly and privately declares to him that he has the story idea of a lifetime – especially because he is right. Still simmering with creative jealously years later, Jacob stumbles upon an unexpected twist: the student with the blockbuster-in-waiting died before completing his masterpiece.
As Jacob helps himself to the plot — and becomes a publishing darling with book tours, Oprah interviews, and all the trappings of a bestseller —he must grapple with the guilt of his success and the bigger question: can an individual be the sole owner of an idea? His constantly thrumming anxiety roars into song when he is anonymously contacted through his website, and on social media, and accused of plagiarism. It appears someone else is in on the secret; and they might want to destroy more than his book sales.
The Plot ambitiously runs parallel stories: extracts from Jacob’s tainted bestseller break up his investigation into who knows his secret and how he can stop them before they escalate from online troll to something far dangerous. Hanff Korelitz awards readers who are on top of their “to be read” piles: a lot of hints to this mystery are sprinkled in careful references to recent bestsellers. It in this cleverness, and the biting satire of the modern literary and publishing world, that the book succeeds most. It appears almost deliberate that while the fawning over Jacob’s novel primarily concerns the gasp-out-loud twist, in The Plot the big reveal is obvious by about the halfway point to any reader paying attention.