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“By doing one wrong thing, I thought I could make everything right.”
― Scott Smith, A Simple Plan
Spoken early in the novel by the narrator, this is perhaps the best summary of the story of this book and it’s a rapid downward spiral. A Simple Plan was first published in 1993, and later was adapted as a screenplay into a film by Sam Raimi, but that film pulls some of the punches of the book.
Three men, Hank, Lou, and Jacob discover a downed plane and in it is a dead man and several million in cash. Since it’s easy to guess it’s illicit, Hank concocts a plan. They hide the money, wait six months, and if no one is looking for it they’ll split it three ways; otherwise, they’ll burn the money and no one will know they were going to take it. With rather alarming rapidity, things quickly seem to spiral out of control and Hank puts himself into situations where he makes one terrible choice after another seemingly for the protection of his brother Jacob, and his family. All the while he rationalizes that this is what he must do to protect his own.
It’s a very dark tale, but a very human one. How often do we do something wrong with the justification that, in the end, we’ll see everything turn out right? Hank’s parents died years ago in a traffic accident. He admits never being terribly close to his brother. He has little connection with the people in his small town. You rarely see him interact with his coworkers. He only attends a church during funerals. He is a man who is rudderless. There is little guiding him away from the wrong thing, and anyone close to him who could guide him is weak at best — they sometimes encourage him to the wrong thing and are ineffective when attempting to guide him away from wrong. Once Hank sets on the path of self-destruction, he only has his own sense of right and wrong, which are horribly skewed.
“There is a way which seems right to a man;
but its end is the way of death.”