You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Grace Reinhart Sachs appears to live a rather charmed life. She is a yuppy New York therapist with a successful practice, married to a brilliant pediatric oncologist, and has a stereotypically precocious son, Henry. Grace is even about to publish her first book, the aptly titled You Should Have Known, in which she utilizes a holier-than-thou tone to claim that women in terrible marriages should have been able to detect the tell-tale signs of imminent failure as early as the first date. Luckily for annoyed readers, Grace’s world abruptly starts to crumble, ironically, as a result of her husband’s misdeeds. It turns out that Jonathan Sachs isn’t so perfect after all, and Grace herself never saw it coming. One would think that this would cause Grace to alter her views and embark on a journey of self-discovery. I think she thinks she is doing this, but Grace remains a stagnant character through the novel’s conclusion.

It is very difficult to like Grace, as she is judgmental towards all women other than herself. Thus, when we find out that her husband is a lying, murderous sociopath, we feel a vindictive  sense of karma, as opposed to the sympathy clearly intended by Korelitz.

As the novel drags on, Grace does not become any more appealing. After taking her son away from their posh New York lifestyle, her attempts at solo parenting range from trying to buy his love with a dog to tricking him into continuing to play the violin (an instrument that he repeatedly expresses interest in abandoning). Instead of growing as a person, Grace merely develops more effective methods of manipulation.

Moreover, the novel does not provide any sort of closure. We don’t know what becomes of the scandalous husband. We don’t know if Grace ends up with the hunky professor next door. We don’t know if poor Henry is ever allowed to quit the violin. Worse yet, we don’t care. In a novel that spends a great deal of effort demonizing the husband, we can’t help but understand why this man had such a strong desire to screw this woman over. I am assuming that this was not the author’s intent. A sequel focusing solely on Henry would be fascinating; there is really no hope for a child with parents like that.

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