As a writer you are constantly searching for the next plot, the next story, the next character… the next work you are going to be pouring your soul into. I have a bunch of old and in-progress files on the computer with short story ideas. Sometimes there is a little meat on those bones… stories I come back to from time to time and work on. In some cases they are still in that folder because I haven’t quite figured it out. Maybe I have the beats but not the ending. Maybe I have the ending but no idea of how to get there. Maybe it is little more than a concept or tagline. Something just waiting for inspiration to strike so that it can become a real story.
Whether you are able to write a book in a few months (weeks?) or it takes decades (still waiting on a couple of series…), you feel like there has to be something out there which has never been seen. Something which will put you on the map and finally get you to the best seller list (or maybe just your local library… whatever your goals might be). It’s the Great White Whale. And that singular idea is enough to keep many constantly rattling away on their keyboards into the deepest parts of the night.
Which brings us to The Plot (by Jean Hanff Korelitz).
Jacob Bonner is a writer who has lost his way. He’s someone who had their first novel come out to a little bit of fanfare. Nothing huge, but enough that he thought he was someone. Then his second book doesn’t do anything. And now, only a handful of years later he has fallen into a measure of obscurity. He now teaches other writers at colleges, doing the bare minimum to help them pursue the dream that he is sure he deserves.
Until one of his students comes in with an idea for a book that he hasn’t heard before. This is the ONE. Something that will make his student famous. Something that will ensure everyone will be talking about it.
For Jacob, it helps sink him into further depression.
Time continues on and he looks up that writer… only to discover he died without ever actually publishing a novel. So Jacob takes the PLOT and writes the book. And it is everything he wanted. The fame, the money, the book tours… and so much more. Things are going great until he gets an email which says “You are a thief.”
What’s interesting about the novel is the author employs a technique I haven’t actually see in a novel since I read Misery by Stephen King: we get to read excerpts from the stolen book throughout our journey with Jacob. It’s a bit jarring at first, I must admit that I wasn’t sure why we were getting to see what the book was going to be about because in my mind whatever THE PLOT actually was would either end up in a couple of directions:
We never actually get to see what it really was because nothing Korelitz presents as the actual Plot wouldn’t live up to the ethereal idea in the readers head.
Or we get to see what it is and are disappointed by whatever it is because we’ve built it up as something which doesn’t exist.
So to include the pages from the novel within the novel felt a little like filler at first. A distraction from the overall plotline we are following: who sent the email? That’s what I wanted to know and every chapter that we spent on the other novel broke up our journey.
Being a writer, I should have had more faith in the web Korelitz was creating throughout the narrative. Slowly, we begin to see how what Jacob has written helps inform us reading The Plot of what might be going on between the lines of both pieces. It ends up working out pretty well, though there is a part of me that wonders if a couple of the sections could have been trimmed and then spread out a little bit more.
The funny thing is that Jacob is searching throughout for something that will propel him into the life he always wanted, but I could see his story as being told on the big screen. Movie life imitating printed life?
Is that even a thing?
John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.
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