Oops, Did She Write It Again?


By Neal Comment

kaavya-megan.jpgKaavya Viswanathan (top) felt her smooth ride to book-world celebrity end abruptly this weekend as the Harvard Crimson pored through the 19-year-old sophomore’s debut novel, How Opal Mehta Got… a Life, and cataloged lots of passages suspiciously familiar to anyone who’s read the first two novels by Megan McCafferty (bottom), Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings. So far, Viswanathan’s only response has been to tell the Crimson reporter she has “no idea what you are talking about” before hanging up, but the similarities, as listed in the Crimson as well as the AP pickup and accompanying sidebar, raise highly significant questions that not even a $500,000 book contract with a Dreamworks film deal and a glowing NYT profile (not to mention the Boston Globe lovefest) can wipe away.

The AP’s Andrew Ryan got hold of Viswanathan’s publisher, Michael Pietsch of Little, Brown, who “can’t believe that these [similarities] are anything but unintentional.” Which is fair enough, and possibly even true (in legal circles, I believe they call it the “My Sweet Lord” defense), but I can’t help but wonder if there’s anybody left at Little, Brown who remembers the last time a promising debut novel blew up in their face because of plagiarism charges: Jacob Epstein’s Wild Oats, which contains several noticeable chunks of Martin Amis’ The Rachel Papers. The scandal completely destroyed Epstein’s literary career—no small feat, considering he was the son of Jason and Barbara Epstein—but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel: he moved on to Hollywood, where he wrote a few scripts, became a story editor on L.A. Law, and produced the series Palace Guard and Sliders. His latest show, Without a Trace, is currently wrapping up its fourth season on CBS. Those Dreamworks contacts might come in handy for Viswanathan yet…