Remember the days when books had alternate titles? Well if I had to give Jean Hanff Korelitz’s book You Should have Known an alternate title, it would be Me and My Big Mouth. This is tale of how one married therapist’s very public statements, made via a non-fiction book, come back to haunt her in a big way.
When the book opens, successful New York therapist Grace is on the cusp of a huge upswing in her career. She’s written a book: You Should Have Known: Why Women Fail to Hear What the Men in their Lives are Telling Them. Grace’s thesis is that women in failed, toxic relationships “knew right at the beginning” that there were warning signs, but that they somehow “unknow” and “let[s] these early impressions, this basic awareness, get overwhelmed by something else.”
You know how we always tell ourselves, You never know, when someone does something we don’t see coming? We’re shocked that he turns out to be a womanizer, or an embezzler. He’s an addict. He lied about everything. Or he’s just garden-variety selfish and the fact that he’s married to you and perhaps you have children together-that doesn’t seem to stop him from behaving as if he’s still a single-unencumbered teenager.
It’s an interesting, but limited thesis. In the first chapter, Grace is interviewed about her book as she presents her argument that women marry men recognizing, but burying their faults as they walk down the aisle to short-lived wedded bliss. Grace has an inflexible approach to the ‘should have known‘ theory which fails to acknowledge a) a lack of experience 2) the deviousness of sociopaths/ psychopaths 3) a frame of reference and, finally, 4) plenty of people acknowledge in hindsight that ‘they should have known.’
Grace’s rather arrogant, judgmental argument is unforgiving. But then Grace, of course, has a perfect marriage to pediatric oncologist Jonathan. With a job such as his, Jonathan is gone a lot; he’s a devoted doctor to his patients, going above and beyond in his free time. …
Physician, heal thyself.
The first chapter was great fun. I knew Grace was going to get her comeuppance and since she’s put her rigid theory in a book, I knew she was going to regret her very-public words.
The second long, incredibly boring chapter tossed me into a bunch of stuffy uppercrusty women who manage fundraisers for the snot private school Grace’s son attends. These “highly tended” women may or may not subscribe to Grace’s theories about relationships, but like Grace they are coddled in a cocoon of privilege (although we are supposed to believe these women are more privileged than Grace). Amongst all the high-maintenance women, there’s one mother who sticks out like some sort of exotic weed, Malaga, a woman whose son attends the school on a scholarship. Malaga ends up murdered, and it’s a shocking event as things like this don’t happen to women in Grace’s protected social circle.
This domestic thriller is a slow read, and Grace’s (initial) constant eulogizing of her mysteriously absent husband is absurd, boring and nauseating. Here she is berating women for choosing to ignore the warning signs about the psycho men in their lives, and she’s blithely sashaying down the same path in a cloud of denial and … yes… stupidity. The best part of the book is the anticipation that Grace is going to get her comeuppance as her perfect little world crumbles around her. Karma can be a bitch.
The HBO series, The Undoing, places a different emphasis on various aspects of the novel. Smart move.