Of all of the issues to get pleasure from in Jean Hanff Korelitz’s new thriller novel The Plot, among the finest must be one of many earliest, which is the encounter between Jacob Finch Bonner and his scholar Evan Parker (who intends his nom de plume to be “Parker Evan”). These two cishet white male writers have temporary literary fisticuffs throughout a category held for one Ripley Faculty’s low-residency MFA program.
Ripley, positioned in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, is a waystation for Bonner, whose early success as a novelist has dried up and left him looking for locations the place he can concurrently disappear from the highly effective literati whereas sustaining the fiction that he is engaged on one thing new. He is a lot a creature of his personal creativeness that even his center title is an invention, taken in homage to his favourite novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.
However for Evan Parker, Ripley gives an open door, a approach for him to make use of an enormous, surprising thought as premise for a debut novel that Parker claims “. . . will likely be learn by everyone. It should make a fortune. Will probably be made right into a film . . . ” Anybody who has ever taken a writing class will acknowledge Evan Parker’s braggadocio, the scholar who believes he has already outrun the instructor, the classmate who has nothing to share. (Later within the story, a type of classmates will inform Bonner “Evan did not share, not pages and never emotions.”)
Bonner reads what Parker has written, and realizes the posturing younger man has cause for his confidence. Evan Parker’s plot is one thing new, darkish, twisty, and unforgettable. A lot the latter that when Parker dies unexpectedly, Bonner decides to steal his story. What is the hurt?
Appreciable, because it seems, and right here is the place it is necessary to cease and separate The Plot‘s wheat from its chaff. Which is painful, since Hanff Korelitz (The Satan and Webster, Admission) is an erudite and stylish author whose regular tone in every of her books is outdone solely by her regular hand with, sure, plot. So long as she’s specializing in Bonner’s straightforward ethics and early success (his e-book, titled Crib, sells two million copies in 9 months and Steven Spielberg buys the movie rights), her steadiness, underlaid by sly humor, guarantees a takedown that can topple all the large and pompous male authors of our time.
Nevertheless, the query “What is the hurt?” does want answering, and it is in cooking up a response that Korelitz falters, as a result of she makes this a fair-play thriller, that means the sort that scatters clues all through like bread crumbs, permitting readers to resolve the dilemma in the event that they so select.
Sadly, a type of clues had me guessing the ending — accurately — earlier than I might even reached the e-book’s midpoint. It was a crimson flag, and although I wish to add a counterpoint to that phrase, I am extra dedicated to not giving spoilers than I’m to my very own cheekiness. Suffice to say loads of readers can even guess.
Some might not care about that clue in any respect. Simply because it reveals up, Jacob Finch Bonner finds himself distracted from his success by a threatening electronic mail. Somebody has made a connection between his novel’s plot and Evan Parker’s thought, and although his literary and private lives develop happier and happier, his inside worries overwhelm him.
That threatening electronic mail is from TalentedTom@gmail.com, which lets Bonner know that there have to be a Ripley Faculty connection, as a result of reference to Patricia Highsmith’s The Proficient Mr. Ripley, whose con artist extraordinaire protagonist is known as Tom. He decides to return to the Northeast Kingdom and examine Evan Parker’s backstory, which includes a small city known as Rutland and several other of its denizens, from cat-fanatic married lesbians to barflies buzzing across the Parker Tavern that Evan as soon as tried to revitalize.
Whereas Bonner very slowly items collectively Parker’s historical past, the particular person behind the TalentedTom electronic mail deal with assaults an increasing number of viciously, with on-line posts accusing Bonner of plagiarism and theft that result in conferences together with his writer’s crew and authorized declamations of innocence. Bonner’s struggling, for positive; certainly one of Korelitz’s funniest particulars is how he holes up in Manhattan with a dozen cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery and a fifth of Jameson as he worries about his nameless stalker. She additionally has a couple of gossipy merchandise in regards to the literary world basically, like a parenthetical mentioning a pair of now-divorced writers who’ve publicly shared their grievances.
Sadly, grace notes like that are not sufficient to beat a number of the extra pedestrian passages wherein Bonner, like a plodding Captain Hastings with out a Hercule Poirot in sight, makes an attempt to determine the Parker-family puzzle. It is perhaps, from a author of Korelitz’s expertise, that I wished and anticipated a extra fiendish and psychologically pushed e-book. As an alternative, this Plot falls flat.
Bethanne Patrick is a contract author and critic who tweets @TheBookMaven.