Saturday, August 16, 2014

You Should Have Known, by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Grace Reinhart is a family therapist who is about to publish her first book, You Should Have Known, which provides advice to women on how to avoid marrying the wrong person; Grace truly believes that the wrong man always tells you that he is the wrong man, if only you will listen. Grace is married to a successful pediatric oncologist, sends her son Henry to the same private school she attended as a girl (and the parents at the school are portrayed just as those of us not living in New York would imagine them to be), and is happy nesting with her family in the same apartment she grew up in. While she, Henry, and husband Jonathan Sachs may not have many (or any) friends, they are a happy family.

But then things start to go wrong. She cannot reach her husband when he is supposed to be at a medical conference, and another mother at the Reardon School is the victim of a violent attack. When the police come to question her, Grace cannot imagine what she could possibly tell them that would be helpful. Soon, however, everyday brings revelations about her marriage that, perhaps, she "should have known." As her carefully constructed life collapses, Grace must figure out how to rebuild.

This book starts rather slowly--readers have to make it through a long interview Grace gives a reporter from Vogue about her book and accounts of two events at the school. While these sections establish Grace as the smug and judgmental, yet still somewhat insecure, person that she is and introduce us to her philosophy and the cultural milieu in which she lives, they could perhaps have been somewhat briefer. For me, one of the most interesting things about the book was trying to figure out why I stayed interested in an unsympathetic character like Grace--particularly when the reader spends the entire book inside Grace's head, subject to her self-delusions, judgments, panic, pain, recriminations, and on and on. I never really found an answer to that question, but I give Korelitz credit for making me care what happened to Grace despite not liking her (and, in fact, disliking her rather fiercely early on in the book).

I don't think this is a great book, but I did find it entertaining.

Favorite passage:
Someone has custom-written a horror story for my life, like those people who take your family members and turn them into a song for the golden anniversary celebration. But not like that at all.

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