- Author: Jean Hanff Korelitz
- Genre: Mystery/Thriller
- Publication Date: May 11, 2021
- Publisher: Celadon Books
Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book. I am giving my honest opinion voluntarily.
CONTENT WARNING: infidelity, adult/minor relationship, suicide, neglect, mention of abortion, cancer, drug use, murder
Jacob Finch Bonner was once a promising young novelist with a respectably published first book. Today, he’s teaching in a third-rate MFA program and struggling to maintain what’s left of his self-respect; he hasn’t written–let alone published–anything decent in years. When Evan Parker, his most arrogant student, announces he doesn’t need Jake’s help because the plot of his book in progress is a sure thing, Jake is prepared to dismiss the boast as typical amateur narcissism. But then . . . he hears the plot.
Jake returns to the downward trajectory of his own career and braces himself for the supernova publication of Evan Parker’s first novel: but it never comes. When he discovers that his former student has died, presumably without ever completing his book, Jake does what any self-respecting writer would do with a story like that–a story that absolutely needs to be told.
In a few short years, all of Evan Parker’s predictions have come true, but Jake is the author enjoying the wave. He is wealthy, famous, praised and read all over the world. But at the height of his glorious new life, an e-mail arrives, the first salvo in a terrifying, anonymous campaign: You are a thief, it says.
As Jake struggles to understand his antagonist and hide the truth from his readers and his publishers, he begins to learn more about his late student, and what he discovers both amazes and terrifies him. Who was Evan Parker, and how did he get the idea for his “sure thing” of a novel? What is the real story behind the plot, and who stole it from whom?
The premise of this story intrigued me, and I’m glad that I got the opportunity to read it. There were some things that I enjoyed, and a few things that I didn’t, but overall, it was a good read that held my attention as I flew through it.
The things I liked: It didn’t glamorize writing as an occupation. Jacob had his ups and downs (mostly downs), and I could empathize with the pressure that he was facing internally and externally. He was a complex character, and extremely flawed, which made him feel more real to me. I was hooked early on, even though the story developed rather slowly over the first half of the book. There’s an exploration into the ethics and morality of taking a plot idea from someone who isn’t using it (since they’re deceased), and the way guilt affected Jake even before he received the first message. Once the messages come in, the tension ratchets up until the conclusion. There were multiple storylines involved, which kept my attention held. In addition to Jake’s professional and personal arc, there were excerpts from Jake’s book itself, as well as the background of where the story idea came from. The way the story unfolded was interesting, even though this felt like more of a literary mystery than a thriller.
The things I didn’t like as much: I’m just going to say it — I knew who was sending the messages well in advance, so I wasn’t surprised by the big plot twist at all. It felt kind of disappointing after reading this whole book and knowing the reveal so early on. The ending wasn’t my favorite part of the book, and it felt so anti-climactic to me. It was also difficult to really get too attached to the characters, since they weren’t generally likable people. Evan was probably the biggest jerk I’ve read in a book recently, and if I met him in real life, he’s the kind of guy you’d just want to punch right in the face on principle alone. But Jake wasn’t a great guy either. I totally understand feeling down when you’re at the lowest point in your career and life, but he never seemed to feel positive at any point, and ended up dwelling on the negative at all times. It felt like this tendency to perseverate kept him from seeing things that were right in front of him. Finally, at times the writing style felt a little clunky, with run-on sentences that I’d have to reread once or twice to make sense of.
Even though the “like” paragraph is shorter than the “didn’t like” paragraph, I did enjoy the book. It was a good story, even if I don’t think that the worst writing can’t ruin an amazing plot. The phrase “anyone can be a writer” is repeated multiple times throughout the book, but I think it needs to be amended. Yes, anyone can be a writer, but not anyone can be a good writer, which I think is truly the key to success. This one is definitely worth the read, and clearly written by a good writer.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 2
Categories: Book Review
I’d heard about this one and I’m so glad to read your thoughts on it- definitely sounds like a unique story!
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Thanks! It was, and it’s definitely one that I’d recommend.