Review

You Should Have Known

by Jean Hanff Korelitz

You wouldn't call Grace Reinhart smug, exactly --- more like someone who just has her act together. Married to one of New York's best doctors --- a pediatric oncologist beloved by his patients; mother to a kind, smart and talented son, Henry; a successful couples therapist who lives and practices on New York City's Upper East Side, the same affluent, cultured neighborhood where she grew up --- Grace seems to have it all.

Grace might not think she's perfect, but she does think she has learned a thing or two during her many hours listening to couples on the verge of collapse. Thats's why she's about to publish a new kind of self-help guide called You Should Have Known. The book tells readers (mostly women) to trust their instincts. If a potential mate is evasive, unkind or disrespectful on a first date, she says he's probably not going to change: "I think we need to learn to listen to our doubt, not just dismiss it, even if that means putting a stop to an engagement." Grace's no-nonsense approach is poised to make her book a huge success, with features in Vogue and on the “Today Show.”

"[L]ike Grace's well-meaning advice book, YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN will prompt plenty of self-reflection among readers even as it keeps them turning the pages."

But much to Grace's surprise (and eventual horror and humiliation), she's about to have to ask herself what she herself should have known. When a tragedy strikes a family at Henry's private school, the police start to question Grace not only about her own relationship with the victim but also about her husband, who has mysteriously disappeared just when she needs him most. Soon she finds herself questioning everything she thought she knew --- and asking herself what, indeed, she should have known.

Korelitz, whose previous novel ADMISSION skewered the Ivy League admissions process, here explores the fragility and facades of a very particular kind of privileged urban life. Grace, who lives in the same apartment where she was raised and whose son attends the same private school of which she is an alumna, takes this life for granted. Issues of race and class reside on the perimeter of YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN. More than this, though, the novel is an examination of the stories we tell ourselves, the ones that make our lives make sense even if they're misplaced or misguided or outright wrong.

Certainly Korelitz pushes her premise to the extreme here, but in the end, like Grace's well-meaning advice book, YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN will prompt plenty of self-reflection among readers even as it keeps them turning the pages.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 21, 2014

You Should Have Known
by Jean Hanff Korelitz