You Should Have Known

By Jean Hanff Korelitz

(Grand Central, $26, 448 pages)

Who is this author?

Jean Hanff Korelitz, an author who is New York City-born and bred, is a graduate of  Dartmouth College and Clare College, Cambridge, and has written several novels, among them “Admission,” which became a Tina Fey, Paul Rudd and Lily Tomlin movie last year. Her other books are “A Jury Of Her Peers,” “The Sabbathday River,” “The White Rose;”  a novel for middle grade students, “Interference Powder;” and the poetry collection “The Properties Of Breath.” Korelitz is the wife of Irish poet Paul Muldoon, who is poetry editor at The New Yorker, and they live in New York City with their two children.

What is this book about?

Like a long and intriguing episode of the Investigation Discovery channel’s “Who the Bleep Did I Marry,” this novel takes us inside a union that seems perfect on the surface but has monstrous events hiding just below. Its heroine is Grace, a therapist and writer married to Jonathan, a pediatric oncologist. They live in the same Manhattan apartment where she grew up, their son attends a fine private school and Grace is about to publish a book called “You Should Have Known,” about how some women blindly let themselves be deceived by their nefarious husbands. Life is good, and then suddenly  life is very, very bad for Grace, who herself becomes a betrayed wife who would have made an excellent case study for her book. There’s a murder, a disappearance, more shocking revelations and painful public humiliation in store, in this tale that one clever reviewer likens to “Jason Bourne meets Martha Stewart.”

Why you’ll like it:

Whether you approach it as a cautionary tale, an inspiring account of how a woman finds a way to survive a nightmare or just as a heaping helping of schadenfreude in which over-privileged New Yorkers get their just (and unjust) desserts, “You Should Have Known” should have great appeal. If you are at the shore this summer, check out what others are reading. I am betting this novel will be on many beach blankets.

What others are saying:                    

The New York Times Book Review says: “Dramatic irony isn’t the only pleasure of You Should Have Known; Grace’s husband’s pathology is erratic enough for behavior that holds genuine surprise. But the real suspense here lies in wondering when Grace will catch up to the reader. When and how will she come to know what she should have known and at some level maybe already did? The momentum of the novel, not to mention the writing, takes off just as Grace starts stumbling her way, arms outstretched, toward a glimpse of her husband’s true nature.”

In a starred review, Publishers Weekly says: “This excellent literary mystery by the author of 2009′s Admission unfolds with authentic detail in a rarified contemporary Manhattan. Therapist Grace Reinhart Sachs is about to embark on a publicity blitz to promote her buzzed-about book on why relationships fail, You Should Have Known. In the meantime, she cares for her 12-year-old son, Henry, who attends the same private school she went to as a child. Grace also treasures her loving relationship with her longtime husband Jonathan, a pediatric cancer doctor at a prestigious hospital. The novel’s first third offers readers an authoritative glimpse into the busy-but-leisurely lives of private-school moms. Grace does her best to get along with the school’s vapid and catty fundraising committee. She eventually learns that one of the mothers outside her social strata, Malaga Alves, was found murdered in her apartment by her young son. Grace, already tense and sad from these events, becomes more and more anxious as Jonathan, at a medical conference in the Midwest, proves unreachable over several days. The author deftly places the reader in Grace’s shoes by exploring her isolation, unease, and contempt for the rumor mill. The plot borders on hyperbole when it comes to upending what we know about one character, but that doesn’t take much away from this intriguing and beautiful book.”

Says Kirkus Reviews:  “Jason Bourne meets Martha Stewart in another of Korelitz’s woman-of-a-certain-age-in-crisis dramas. The author’s 2009 novel, Admission, is now a film starring Tina Fey. Well, not quite Jason Bourne. But Grace Reinhart Sachs is almost as resourceful. She lives the perfect life–or so she thinks–with a rich, famous doctor for a husband and a satisfying if hurried professional life as a therapist, pop psychologist and now author of a book called, yes, You Should Have Known, a book that’s “apparently about to snag the Zeitgeist.” With said snagging comes her ascent to public personhood, or, as Grace puts it in psychologese, “[t]hus completing my public infantilization.” Her book urges women to take charge and exercise due diligence with regard to potential life mates, though in her own case, she had “absolutely just known, the first time she had lain eyes on Jonathan Sachs, that she would marry and love him for the rest of her life.” Mistake. Karma being what it is, it only stands to reason that the perfection of her life–the great kid, happy marriage, stunningly appointed city apartment and country home–will fall apart at the mere hint of scandal. And so it does, so that when Grace discovers that he’s not everything that he’s cracked up to be–emphasis on cracked up–she swings into action to uncover every dirty bit of laundry that’s hidden in that oak-paneled walk-in closet. Korelitz writes with clarity and an unusual sense of completeness; she doesn’t overdescribe, but neither does she let much of anything go by without observing it, which slows an already deliberately paced narrative. She is also an ascended master of the psychologically fraught situation, of which Grace experiences many as she stumbles on but then rises above the wreckage of her life. A smart, leisurely study of midlife angst.”

“A successful therapist with her new book, You Should Have Known, due to be published in weeks, Grace is living a life to envy: she’s married to an oncologist who loves her, has a son who adores her, and lives in a great apartment in Manhattan. Her son, Henry, attends an exclusive private school, which is in the midst of an annual fundraiser. Grace attends a planning meeting with several moms she already knows plus a new member, Malaga. Imagine the moms’ shock when a few days after the meeting, Malaga is found brutally murdered in her apartment. The police question everyone on the planning committee but return to talk to Grace several times. And thus begins the end of what Grace thought was a normal life. VERDICT Korelitz, the author of Admission, has crafted her second novel in the vein of Gone Girl or The Silent Wife; unfortunately, the suspense is marred by the overwritten prose. The book tends to be very New York-centric, so readers unfamiliar with the vagaries of life in Manhattan may find little to enjoy; still, fans of Korelitz’s first novel may be curious enough to give this a shot.,” says Library Journal.

When is it available?

You should have known it would be on the shelves at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Mark Twain branch.  And now you do.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Comments are closed.