For over a decade, we’ve been fans of The New York Times best-selling author Jean Korelitz and flew through her page-turners including Admission (adapted as a 2013 film starring Tina Fey) and You Should Have Known (adapted as HBO’s blockbuster The Undoing with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant). So we weren’t in the least surprised to open her newest book, the psychological thriller The Plot, and be taken on a roller coaster ride.
We won’t spoil your read of The Plot, but the premise is that a once-celebrated author, Jacob Finch Bonner, relegated to teaching in a minor MFA program, pilfers the novel of a deceased student and publishes it to great acclaim. But along with fame, wealth, and admiration comes trouble: Someone knows the truth. The N.Y. Times named THE PLOT “one of 15 must reads,” and Maureen Corrigan’s Washington Post review called it “the best thriller of the year.“
We were lucky to speak with Jean the week her rave reviews were coming in. Our first question was about going into quarantine and writing The Plot. “Ninety percent of the book was completed during the pandemic. I had been in Seattle doing an event and was sitting writing in a beautiful coffee shop weeks before shut-down. I had a panic-attack that this virus was way more serious than people were taking it. But then I thought I was over-reacting, having read too many novels,” Jean shared. “But soon after that, I was in lock-down in our remote house in upstate New York. I didn’t see anyone for 4 months.”
Our next query was an assumption that the quiet and solitude contributed positively to her writing. “Well, writing was pretty much all I did, so yes,” Jean laughed. “Frankly, I’m happy writing in bed or a coffee shop. Pan Quoitiden works, and my favorite, the Hungarian Pastry Shop, is a real friend to writers.”
A novelist exploring a writer’s insecurities and fears seems like a touchy subject — why did she go down that rabbit hole? “It came out of a deep anxiety of mine and many writers, I believe. I think a lot about about appropriation. Imagination is a very murky business, and there’s always lots of bits and pieces of other people’s stories lurking about. When I start to create, they all get mashed together and lose their origins.”
The Plot features a story within a story, and we asked how much of the novel did she map out before writing. Jean responded, “The magic number for me is about 60 to 70%. It’s fatal to connect the dots or to fill out index cards for me. Of course I have an outline, but I like to be surprised at what happens. I’m actually writing to find out.” And we read Jean’s novels for the same reason. We like to be surprised, too!
All signs show that The Plot will be a huge success, and a filmed adaptation is already in the works. Were there times when Jean had the author insecurities of her character Jake? “Oh, for sure,” shared Jean. “Even the best writers have their angst and fear. I have been in so many bookstores where I couldn’t even find any of my books on the shelves, and it’s pretty demoralizing.” We’re betting that those days are behind her.
We recommend getting your copy of The Plot for your first great summer read. This coming Wednesday evening, there’s a free virtual event at The National Arts Club, when Jean talks shop with fellow writer Scott Turow.