A Simple Plan

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Many people indulge in fantasies about what they would do with a large sum of money. When Hank Mitchell, his brother Jacob, and Jacob’s friend Lou come across more than $4 million in hundred-dollar bills in the cockpit of a downed airplane with a dead man in the pilot’s seat, their first thoughts are how to keep the money, not how to spend it. Hank, the most responsible one of the trio and the first-person narrator of the novel, convinces the others that they should hide the money until they find out if anyone can trace it or is looking for it.

Such a secret does not remain secret for long. Hank tells his wife about the money, which he keeps at their house, and Lou tells his girlfriend. Jacob, who is in the middle of one of many bouts of unemployment, and Lou, a drunk, soon begin asking Hank for some of the money. He finds himself scheming to keep from giving it to them, believing that they will be discovered if any of the money is spent. All of them begin acting as if it is theirs already; Hank, for example, uses most of his life’s savings to buy a condominium.

As the story progresses, Hank becomes caught up in increasingly desperate and criminal measures to keep the secret of the money from spreading. One crime leads to another in a chain of actions that he sees as fate rather than as the product of his free will. He sees his mission first as protecting his brother from criminal prosecution, then as saving himself and his wife from the same fate. Hank’s journey of moral degeneration is engaging, leaving the reader to wonder where it will all end, when Hank will decide that he has gone too far, and what type of punishment awaits him. The book ends with several clever ironic twists. Scott Smith’s first novel is a masterful probe into human morality.