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Thursday, December 1, 2022

Excuse Me While I Steal Your Book Idea and Get Famous

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At first, Jake ignores a string of increasingly threatening dispatches. But then “Talented Tom” (as the harasser calls himself, evoking “The Talented Mr. Ripley”) takes to Twitter, contacts Jake’s publisher and sends a letter to his home. By this point, we’ve watched Jake progress from an apartment on aptly named Poverty Lane to Manhattan’s West Village, where he finally has a real home (and a cat); and, I have to admit, we’re rooting for the guy. We’ve looked past his self-involvement and toxic pride, not a hard thing to do. Now we start to wonder if our loyalty is misplaced. Did Jake earn his new life or is it all just stolen finery?

Korelitz tells us that Jake “had not taken one single word from those pages he’d read back at Ripley.” But, ever since he’d typed “Chapter One” into his laptop, “he’d been waiting, horribly waiting, for someone who knew the answer to this very question — How’d you come up with it? — to rise to their feet and point their finger in accusation.”

Jake’s search for Talented Tom takes him on a cat-and-mouse odyssey from Vermont to Georgia, from a local tavern to a lawyer’s office to a creepy campground and a graveyard. His detective instincts are so spot on, I started to wonder if he might have a second career as a sleuth.

I won’t spoil the ending. But, as a longtime fan of Korelitz’s novels (including “You Should Have Known,” which was made into HBO’s “The Undoing”), I will say that I think “The Plot” is her gutsiest, most consequential book yet. It keeps you guessing and wondering, and also keeps you thinking: about ambition, fame and the nature of intellectual property (the analog kind). Are there a finite number of stories? Is there a statute of limitations on ownership of unused ideas? These weighty questions mingle with a love story, a mystery and a striver’s journey — three of the most satisfying flavors of fiction out there.

Jake Bonner’s insecurity, vulnerability and fear are familiar to those of us who have faced a blank screen, wondering how or whether we’ll be able to scramble letters into a story. Korelitz takes these creative hindrances and turns them into entertainment. Not only does she make it look easy, she keeps us guessing until the very end.

  • What were your thoughts on the chapters from “Crib”? (It took me a while to get my bearings but once I did I wanted to read the whole book.)

  • That ending! Did you see it coming? Did we meet anyone along the way who might have understood what happened?

Misery,” by Stephen King. This is the novel that flipped “I’m your No. 1 fan” from compliment to taunt. After a car accident, a popular novelist finds himself trapped in a farmhouse with a nurse who has strong opinions about his work. “This novel is more than just a splendid exercise in horror,” our critic wrote. “Its subject is not merely torture, but the torture of being a writer.”

Luster,” by Raven Leilani. In Leilani’s debut, a young Black artist who is struggling to make ends meet gets tangled up with an older, white, married colleague at her thankless publishing job. Like Jake, Edie is a complicated character whose choices you may not always applaud. But who wants to read about someone who always does the “right” thing?

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