“You should have known” – is there a more irritating phrase for someone to tell you, or worse, to tell yourself?
Jean Hanff Korelitz is the author of the 2014 book You Should Have Known, and if she sounds familiar she wrote of one of this summer’s hottest books, The Plot.
I saw an ad for the HBO show The Undoing with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant and it looked juicy, so of course I had to see if it was based on a book. Bingo! I watched the show first (on DVDs from my library) then I read the book. I’d say the novel has an edge over the show, but the mini-series was pretty entertaining.
You Should Have Known is a novel in three parts with three main characters: husband and wife Jonathan and Grace, and their son Henry. Grace is a therapist specializing in couples therapy. Jonathan is a charismatic pediatric oncologist. Together they live a charmed life in New York City. Their home is the same home that Grace grew up in and Henry attends the same private school Grace went to as a child.
What could go wrong?
Grace is on the fundraising committee for the school and they’re planning an auction at the home of one of their super-wealthy parents. She and the team are meeting when they have a bizarre encounter with a new member, Malaga, and her baby (aggressive breastfeeding, it’s a weird scene). Malaga is also the mother of a 4th grade boy attending the school on scholarship and she volunteered to help, even though she’s out of her league among the other wealthy and accomplished women.
Malaga at the fundraiser / auction is a sight to see – irresistibly beautiful and attracting the attention of all the men in the room. And then, sadly, she is murdered later that night. At the same time Jonathan has taken off on a trip to a medical conference out of state and he’s left his cell phone home so Grace can’t reach him. Dun dun dun.
The title of the novel is actually the title of Grace’s first book about to be published: You Should Have Known: Why Women Fail To Hear What The Men In Their Lives Are Telling Them. Her gift as a therapist is highlighting the way that partners almost always tell their future spouses about themselves early on, but it’s glossed over or ignored. Warning signs and red flags are lost in the rush of lust and excitement. Surprised that your husband turned out to be gay? Well, he told you about his “experimental phase” in college. Shocked that your wife burned through your savings? Well, when you met she was already deep in debt. Grace wants to throttle them for ignoring what was in their face from the start.
Korelitz is a wonderful storyteller. Her book is written in the 3rd person and it is descriptive, warm, thoughtful and at times wryly funny. Grace’s inner thoughts, memories and nagging doubts are highlighted and it’s easy to see yourself in her shoes. Despite her privilege she’s an ordinary woman in extraordinary circumstances.
The novel follows the trajectory of the investigation as well as Grace’s slowly unfolding awareness of things she should have known. She and her son escape the city to her family’s lake house in Connecticut where she gains the distance and clarity she desperately needs.
This is a portrait of a family unraveling and knotting itself back together. It’s an intelligent and smart novel that would be a great addition to your summer stack of books to read. But beware – even though it’s fiction it just might get you thinking about some things you should have known…