Matthew's Reviews > A Simple Plan

A Simple Plan by Scott B. Smith
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's review
Oct 20, 2007

really liked it

Scott Smith's books are, above all, methodical. For all their chaos and violence, everything seems inevitable, everyone acts logically, and yet, without fail, things go terribly, terribly wrong. It's impossible not to imagine yourself in his characters' places, wondering if you would have made similar decisions, acted in a similar way, and still come to the same calamitous end. His wildly entertaining second novel, The Ruins, placed its characters in an impossible situation that was articificial and supernatural, but his debut, A Simple Plan, is more powerful and frightening because the impossible situation is the characters' own damn fault entirely.

He begins with a simple moral dilemma: if you stumbled upon a pile of cash, would you take it? What if there was little chance of you being caught? Hank, our narrator, discovers four million dollars in a downed plane buried in the snow. He's accompanied by his brother, Jacob, and Jacob's deadbeat friend, Lou. Together they decide on a "simple plan"; that is, take the money, but don't spend it until the plane is discovered and no one reports it missing. If anything goes wrong, they plan to burn the money instantly.

Of course, everything goes horribly wrong. Despite Hank's best efforts to act logically and cover his tracks, the allure and power of the money proves to be too much to handle. Smith writes in (call me redundant) simple, declarative sentences, which suit his "play-by-play" style very well. It's agonizing to watch the characters make what seems to be a sound decision, only to see it backfire in the next scene. And Smith never flinches, so we are trapped in this downward spiral right along with them. Even when there's no imminent threat, when it seems, for a moment, that everything might be okay, when Hank is playing with his newborn baby, for example, or Jacob is thinking about buying back their family's barn, there is a sustained and suffocating sense of foreboding, which makes the characters' brief hope that much more heartbreaking.

"'I'm not crazy,' I said, trying to make my voice come out rational, calm. 'It all makes sense. It all happened one thing after the other.'"
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Derek Mccumber I consider both of his novels to be horror novels - the horror of the inevitable. You know what's going to happen - there aren't a whole lot of surprises - and you just have to sit back and watch every horrible thing unfold. It's excruciating at times, but he's such a deft writer that I can't help but enjoy the ride.

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