Top positive review
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A Simple Pla(i)n reading novel
on 2 June 2013
After struggling but finishing the classic "Wuthering Heights", I wanted something easy to read. A friend at work suggest A SIMPLE PLAN, as she'd read it - and she's a slow reader who is critical of any book that doesn't grip her within a couple of chapters.
I thought the premise of the story was rather weak, or at least it didn't automatically make me think that it would give way to an amazing story. Two brothers and a friend find $4.4m in a plane, in the middle of nowhere. It's not exactly a gripping premise such as "man is stabbed to death in a room that's locked from the inside". In many respects, the very average premise does give rise to an average story - so why have I rated the novel 4/5 overall? Well, it's not because of the premise!
This is where Scott Smith scores exceptional high from me. The story is told from Hank's perspective, i.e. in first person. The descriptions are always very well written, and nothing is given away too soon on how Hank is going to behave. Despite knowing every step of the way what Hank's going to do (or thinks he's going to do!), we are never sure it's going to work out because he obviously cannot predict other people's nature, which is what makes the book very compelling. The next category I look at (characterisation) is really what makes the book special enough to garner 4 stars from me; but the style of writing is what allows the author to weave a story that feels fresh.
The story is told in a way that it feels biographical. Despite some deaths, the narrator never goes into gory details - the story is definitely not about a serial killer, or even someone who's "turning into a serial killer". The title of the story is true to itself all the way through: Hank always maintains that they must absolutely wait it out, find out if the money is truly unmarked or not, and whether anyone is looking for it. Hence "the simple plan" - waiting it out. Even towards the end of the story, Hank is still holding onto this simple plan - it's only just before the last epic scene (missing from the film) that he's no longer sticking to the plan.
From the outset, we know that Hank is someone who takes few risks, and prefers to be in control as much as possible. Hence he works as an accountant, which lets him control his financial situation but also at the expense of appearing a little boring with life's choices. Hank never deviates from his characterisation - the first time they almost get rumbled, he does his best to cover up the death of an innocent man purely to protect his social circle. A few readers have commented that Hank is "like a sadistic killer"; but that's far from true if you read the novel for its characterisations. Everything Hank does is to give him (and his wife) reasons to keep the money or not; any deaths along the way are a 'necessary' small cog in the giant machine that's turning. Lou's character is one of the most interesting in the story, as he's the complete opposite of Hank - impulsive, a bad gambler, always taking risks, an alcoholic.
If you've watched the film, then you've missed out on a truly epic ending (which I won't spoil for you). The ending isn't anything breathtaking, but it fits in with the premise of the story as well as the reason for the story. It also doesn't feel rushed (but is certainly not dragged on), so you're given ample time to take in what's been happening. Despite all the things that Hank has done, the story never concludes that he's "numb to it all" - it's more a case that his life of predictability was completely upset by the one-in-a-million chance of finding $4.4m that they (he, his wife, his brother, their friend & friend's partner) could keep.
The novel gets 4/5 from me because it's a simple story told in an effective way. It took me longer than an evening to finish it, so I'd consider it a standard sized novel (Patricia Cornwell's "Post Mortem" took a short evening to read, that's how small it is). If you're after a well fleshed-out story and aren't bothered by the lack of twists or lack of plot devices, and you like strong characterisations and descriptions - then this is the book for you. Do not read if you're after a story with an amazing plot or premise.