The Plot. Twisted.

First, I don’t usually read suspense. A few Louise Penny mysteries, sure, but I usually stick in my lane: Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction. I don’t need anything more disturbing my sleep. I can do that without any help. In fact, I read in bed with the express purpose of falling asleep.

But a friend recommended The Plot. So, thanks?

Jake is a writer who had one bestseller, a second book that didn’t sell half as well, and now is stuck in the doldrums, teaching writing in lackluster, low-residency MFA programs. A disagreeable and arrogant student tells him of his great plot idea implying “anyone” could write it and that it was sure to be a hit. Jake agrees that the plot is brilliant and unique. A few years later, still stuck for a great idea of his own, Jake searches to find out whatever happened to his student’s sure thing. No sign of the book. anywhere. And worse (better?) the student is dead, leaving no family. His parents and his sister are all dead.

A moral dilemma. Is it stealing? Is an idea copyrightable? And who would know?

You can guess Jake’s decision. And sure enough, his book is a major hit. It tops bestseller lists for months. It was chosen by Oprah. Spielberg will make the movie. Jake is on top of the world.

But then he starts getting cryptic (and then threatening) messages accusing him of stealing a story that wasn’t his. Things get very interesting indeed. I’ll say no more about how he attempts to unravel the mystery and the various plot twists, except to say that they kept me up past my bedtime.

However, the question of where ideas come and who owns them is intriguing to consider. Jake thinks long and hard about this.

“To Jake, the word that comprised the relationship between a writer and their spark was “responsibility.” Once you were in possession of an actual idea, you owed it a debt for having chosen you, and not some other writer, and you paid that debt by getting down to work, not just as a journeyman fabricator of sentences but as an unshrinking artist ready to make painful, time-consuming, even self-flagellating mistakes.”

“The superstition held that if you did not do right by the magnificent idea that had chosen you, among all possible writers, to bring it to life, that great idea didn’t just leave you to spin your stupid and ineffectual wheels. It actually went to somebody else. A great story, in other words, wanted to be told. And if you weren’t going to tell it, it was out of here, it was going to find another writer who would, and you would be reduced to watching somebody else write and publish your book.”

“Good writers borrow, great writers steal, Jake was thinking. That ubiquitous phrase was attributed to T. S. Eliot (which didn’t mean Eliot hadn’t, himself, stolen it!), but Eliot had been talking, perhaps less than seriously, about the theft of actual language—phrases and sentences and paragraphs—not of a story, itself.”

Jake’s musings reminded me of what author Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in Big Magic a few years ago.

“Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.”

“Because this is the other side of the contract with creativity: If inspiration is allowed to unexpectedly enter you, it is also allowed to unexpectedly exit you.”

“I believe that inspiration will always try its best to work with you—but if you are not ready or available, it may indeed choose to leave you and to search for a different human collaborator.”

What do you think? Was Jake a thief? Or was he merely fulfilling an artist’s obligation to an idea? The book provides plenty of food for thought along with its suspense. Recommend.

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