Not every 350-page novel can be torn through in a weekend, but readers may find themselves batting away sleep and setting an alarm for early the next day to continue Jean Hanff Korelitz’s propulsive literary thriller, The Plot. Considering the success of Korelitz’s previous bestseller, You Should Have Known, which became HBO’s “The Undoing” starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant, her skill at ratcheting up the tension should come as no surprise.
The Plot is an ingenious piece of storytelling—a story within a story, two plots for the price of one. Jacob Finch Bonner is a washed-up novelist whose debut book led to a brief dalliance with literary success, but that was years ago, and he has since slipped off the radar. At the novel’s start, Jake is scraping by, teaching at a poorly ranked MFA program. When one of Jake’s students, Evan Parker, reveals the twisty plot behind his yet-to-be-written novel, which Evan is convinced will be a bestseller, Jake begrudgingly concedes that literary fame surely beckons.
A few years pass, and when Jake doesn’t hear anything about the novel or its author, he does some online snooping and is shocked to discover that Evan died a few months after the residency. So Jake writes the novel that never was, titles it Crib and becomes a publishing sensation. But things start to unravel when he begins to receive anonymous threats accusing him of theft.
It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to structure The Plot the way Korelitz has—to claim that Crib will be a surefire bestseller, and then in case we doubt her, to share parts of Crib to reveal just how good it is. But Korelitz is an audacious writer who delivers on her promises. Her next big-screen adaptation surely awaits.