Scott Smith's A Simple Plan

Scott Smith’s screenplay adaptation of his 1993 novel, A Simple Plan, was nominated for an Oscar award. The original book is a psychological thriller that is still in print today, both in paperback and e-book format. According to USA Today, A Simple Plan has sold well over a million copies. A graduate of Columbia University’s MFA writing program, Scott gained the attention of two New York Times book reviewers with this first novel. Unlike so many bestselling authors though, Scott is not prolific. In 2006, he published his only other book, The Ruins. According to Scott, he spends the majority of his time scriptwriting instead.

A Simple Plan is the story of “what happens to a group of ordinary people when they are suddenly placed in a decidedly extraordinary situation” (Kakutani 2006). The novel begins with Hank and brother Jacob visiting their parent’s grave on New Year’s Eve. Jacob’s friend Lou accompanies them on the first part of the trip. Jacob’s dog flees into the woods after they make an unexpected stop. When the men go in search of the dog, they stumble upon the wreckage of a small plane. Inside the plane, they find a dead pilot and a duffle bag containing 4.4 million dollars.

Jacob and Lou propose splitting the money between the three men. Hank strongly opposes the idea. But as the three men talk, Hank’s initial resolve waivers. He eventually concocts a “simple plan” that will let the trio get away with the theft. The shocking events that result from this decision make for captivating reading.

The narrative is told in the first person; we see events from Hank’s perspective and identify with the well-intentioned protagonist. From the minute he teams up with Jacob and Lou, we suspect the worst. Both men are untrustworthy and the plot keeps us in high suspense throughout the entire novel.

The New York Times called A Simple Plan a “beautifully controlled and disturbing first novel” (Brown 1993). What is especially disquieting is the way Hank loses his moral compass and sinks into criminal activity. Hank is no psychopath; he is a regular citizen like the reader. But the ease with which he slides from grand theft robbery to murder makes us realize the potential in all of us. As Kakutani (1993) observes,
Mr. Smith provides an emotionally vivid chronicle of Hank’s decision to steal the money, giving the reader a compelling account of how an ordinary, law-abiding citizen might come to commit a crime.
Hank, Jacob, Lou, and Sarah are all psychologically probing portraits. If you like suspense thrillers with strong characterization and a riveting plot, you will truly enjoy A Simple Plan. Brown, Rosellen. “Choosing Evil: One Bad Thing Leads to a Worse Thing in This Novel.” The New York Times. September 19, 1993. Kakutani, Michiko. “Plotter’s Stupidity Saved by Stupidity of Others.” The New York Times. September 3, 1993. Kakutani, Michiko. “A Mexican Vacation, Interrupted by Killer Plants.” The New York Times. July 18, 2006. Smith, Scott. A Simple Plan. 1993. New York: Vintage Books, 2006.