Here’s the thing about therapists: We don’t want to know that their lives are as screwed as ours. How can I take advice on my marriage from someone whose own relationship is fraught with anger issues or poor communication?
Or how about infidelity and even murder? That’s the premise of You Should Have Known, Jean Hanff Korelitz’s latest novel, which has the potential to be this summer’s successor to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl – an addictive page-turner that entertains as it makes you ever-so-slightly suspicious of what the people in your life are hiding from you.
The protagonist, Grace Sachs, is a successful family therapist about to release her first book, titled, “You Should have Known: Why Women Fail to Hear What the Men in Their Lives are Telling Them.” Sachs is a likeable character, but her book has the unmistakable thread of “I told you so” that is as unwelcome from a therapist as it is from the girlfriend who always suspected your college boyfriend was cheating on you and can’t wait to be right about it. Sachs’ message to her readers and patients is clear: look at the warning signs in your relationship early on, and don’t be surprised later when they show up again.
She quickly gets a dose of her own tough love when her husband Jonathon, a revered pediatric oncologist, disappears, and suddenly her comfortable Manhattan life teeters perilously on the edge. Korelitz keeps her readers engaged in the drama as Sachs scrambles to find out where Jonathon disappeared to, while answering police interrogations about a murder and negotiating the equally tough mom social circle at her son’s private school. We’re on her side as she sifts through the innumerable details of a marriage and a life, desperately seeking the answer even one of the questions about her life that seem to multiply at every turn. All the while, her dreams of writing a best-selling book, complete with a profile in Vogue and television interviews, are thrown in her face. Who wants advice from a woman who didn’t know that one day her husband would upend every part of their lives?
Korelitz treads on somewhat familiar territory in this novel, focusing the action in Manhattan, the backdrop for several of her previous books, including A Jury of Her Peers and The White Rose. The gossip at Sachs’ son’s private school harkens back to the setting of Admission, Korelitz’s 2009 novel about a Princeton University admission officer. Her willingness to smash her characters’ seemingly perfect lives makes for compelling reading that skips the easy answers while remaining an immersible read.
- Chandra Ram