There are a lot of things about You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz that leave the reader, or maybe just me, conflicted. On the one hand, I absolutely didn’t want to stop reading because I needed to know how things would turn out for marriage counselor Grace Reinhart Sachs. On the other hand, I absolutely loathed Grace Reinhart Sachs for about three-quarters of the book. This left me very confused as to why I cared what happened to her. Or maybe not so much confused, but guilty that I spent a long time hoping her perfect world would implode in on itself.
I don’t know if Hanff Korelitz intended for a reader to be against the main character in this book, but I was.
Allow me to try and explain why I think I didn’t like her.
First, and maybe this explains a lot of it, I can picture Grace Reinhart Sachs on The Real Housewives of New York. She’s a rich woman, but not quite rich enough to never consider going on such a show. She’s very much about keeping up with the Joneses, as it were. She clings for dear life to the things from her childhood, like the apartment she grew up in and now lives in with her husband and her son and the alumnae spot her son has at a ritzy private school. It’s sweet, to a point. Of course, as any good RHNY cast member would do, she strives for more. What isn’t so sweet is her fantastically naive ego, and I may have just made that phrase/diagnosis up.
Grace is a marriage counselor who wrote a book that nine people out of ten find aggressively judgmental. The gist of her book is basically that women should know better than to marry cheaters, abusers, gay men, etc. She says there is no such thing as love at first sight. She says that women should always be aware of their relationships and recognize that they might not know everything that’s going on, much less approve of it.
Guess who should be the first person in line for a copy of this sage advice?
That’s right – Grace herself.
She admits she fell in love at first sight, never to her clients and only occasionally to herself, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Her husband, a pediatric oncologist – and she does love to tell people that he’s a pediatric oncologist no matter how many times the words on the page say that she doesn’t – isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. The iceberg, in other words, is huge. If Grace were the Titanic, her husband is the iceberg.
It’s a slow collapse and every new revelation is like another block of ice chipping off or another pump room on the ship filling with water.
So why was I rooting against Grace, and I did so quite vociferously, when I should have been hoping for a survivor in the whole mess?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I finished the book a few days ago and the best I can come up with is this: I’m not an Upper East Side – and I’m fairly certain that’s the geography that Grace liked to talk about – New Yorker. It seems like a microcosm environment with a culture all it’s own. And I don’t get that culture. Maybe even more than that, I was put off by what she wrote in her book. I’m one of the people I include in the nine out of ten who found it aggressively judgmental. It made me not like her, to tell the truth. When both of those things combined, I read the story to see someone I didn’t like get what was coming to them.
I’m happy with the ending, though, actually very happy. Grace found out there was a very satisfactory world beyond her little New York bubble – she even discovered (to her delight and dismay!) that public middle schools in Connecticut are better than fancy private schools in New York – and it seems like she’ll do well there.
All things considered, I really did like this book. It made got me riled up. I felt strongly about things in it. And I couldn’t stop reading it.
(This review will be cross-posted on Goodreads.)