Book review and synopsis for The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz, a thriller-esque book-within-a-book about a story too good not to steal, and the writer who steals it.
In The Plot, Jake Bonner is a failed writer who teaches at a third-rate MFA program. One day, one of his students, Evan, tells him about a book he's working on with a great plot. Later, Jake learns that Evan died without writing his book.
Years later, Jake ends up becoming a bestselling author based on the plot of that book. However, he starts receiving anonymous messages from someone who knows he his book's plot.
In this thriller and book-within-a-book, Jake must uncover the truth behind the plot of his own book.
(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)
Detailed Plot SummaryChapter-by-Chater SummarySee the Chapter-by-Chater Summary of The PlotQuick Plot Summary
The one-paragraph version: Jake writes a bestselling book based on a plot told to him by his MFA student, Evan Parker, who ends up dying soon after. When Jake starts getting anonymous messages calling him a "thief", he begins to investigate and learns that the story was true and based on Evan's family. In the story, a mother (Evan's sister) and daughter (Evan's niece) dislike each other. The mother ends up killing the daughter and taking her place. Jake figures out that the anonymous messages are likely from Evan's sister who murdered her own daughter (plus her parents and Evan). He goes home to tell his wife, but it turns out his wife is Evan's sister, who married him on purpose to take back her story. She murders Jake and inherits his books and estate.
In Part I, the book introduces Jacob "Jake" Finch Bonner, a once-promising writer who now teaches for a third-rate MFA program. As the school year begins, a new student, Evan Peters, comes into his class arrogantly and obnoxiously claiming that he has a work in progress with an amazing plot that's sure to become a great novel. Jake is skeptical when he reads an excerpt -- which describes a daughter and her mother living in an old house. But when Evan describes the plot, Jake realizes that this book will be everything Evan claims it will be.
Part II jumps forward two and a half years. Jake is now working three jobs after the MFA program he teaches at went online-only and reduced his salary. One day, Jake looks online to see what happened with Evan's book and learns that Evan died soon after their workshop class ended, meaning Evan likely never had time to complete his novel.
In Part III, Jake has now published Crib, a major bestseller soon to be adapted into a movie by Steven Spielberg, written based off of Evan's plot. He meets and marries a woman named Anna. However, Jake starts getting anonymous messages from someone going by "Talented Tom" calling him a "thief" and saying they know what Jake stole the novel. The situation escalates until his publisher's legal team has to get involved.
Meanwhile, excerpts from Crib are interspersed throughout the chapters, revealing more of its story. It jumps back in time to a young Samantha (the mother character) getting pregnant by her mother's boss at 15. She's forced by her religious parents to keep the baby. At 16, she has the child, Maria (the daughter character).
When the Talented Tom rumors start to gain traction in the media, Jake realizes it needs to be dealt with. He goes to the town in Vermont where Evan is from to research about his family. Jake learns that Evan's parents and sister are dead, but the sister (Dianna) had a child (Rose) who is alive. Jake believes Talented Tom is likely that surviving child.
As the excerpts from Crib continue, Maria grows up and Samantha's parents die of natural causes. Maria has to fend for herself for most of her childhood. She ends up smart and eager to leave town like her mother. However, their relationship is distant and full of mutual resentment. When Samantha learns from Maria's teacher that Maria is graduating early and attending college on scholarship, Samantha is upset that Maria didn't bother to tell her.
In Vermont, when Jake sees Evan's house, he realizes that Evan's story is not fictional at all, but rather the true story of his sister and niece. When Anna gets a letter from Tom about the accusations, Jake reluctantly tells her the truth about the situation.
Meanwhile in the story, the night Maria is about to leave, she finally tells Samantha about her departure only because she wants to borrow the car. Samantha is angry and the two get into an argument, with Maria bitterly deriding the notion that Samantha ever cared about her. Without thinking, Samantha grabs her, resulting in Maria's head slamming into a bedpost. Samantha then packs up Maria's things and buries her outside a remote cabin in another state.
In Part IV, Jake heads to Athens, Georgia where he'd heard Rose had last been. He confirms with the school registrar's office that she was a student at UGA for one year. The cleaning lady where Rose had lived says her mother had died in a fire on camping grounds nearby. A newspaper article confirms this, except it describes Dianna as her sister and says that Rose was 26.
In the final excerpts from Crib, Samantha goes to college in place of Maria. One day, Maria's former girlfriend shows up, but Samantha kills her, too.
In Athens, Jake pieces together that Dianna had driven Rose to college, where they stayed on a campgrounds. Dianna killed Rose in a fire and told the locals that the victim was her (Dianna). Dianna in turn claimed to be her 26-year-old sister (because she knew she couldn't pass for 16). From there, Dianna left to take Rose's place in college.
When Jake gets home, Anna gives him soup that turns out to be spiked with drugs. As Jake gets sleepy and groggy, Anna admits that she is Dianna (as well as Talented Tom). She killed her parents out of bitterness about them forcing her to keep the baby. Then, after she killed Rose in the fire (and told everyone else it was her own death), she took over Maria's life at UGA. One day Evan comes looking Rose and sees that Dianna is alive. Instead of doing anything about it, he realizes what has happened and he goes home and starts writing this story. Dianna follows him home and kills him, too.
After telling Jake this story, Anna leaves him for dead.
In the Epilogue, Jake is now deceased. Anna tells everyone it was a suicide as a result of being harassed over false accusations regarding the Talented Tom rumors. As his widow, Anna inherits his books and the proceeds from the story she feels he stole from her.
For more detail, see the full Chapter-by-Chater Summary.