Wednesday, May 21, 2014

You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz

As I gear up for my annual outing to Book Expo, I've been perusing my bookshelves to see what books I lugged home from last year's event that remain unread.  "You Should Have Known" by Jean Hanff Korelitz was one of them.  There's been a profusion of reviews (universally favorable) about this thriller from papers and magazines as disparate as the New York Times and People and Vogue.  So what was I waiting for?

Perhaps it was the premise of the book that put me off.  Grace, our protagonist, is a therapist on the Upper East Side who specializes in couples/relationship therapy.  She's written a book -- entitled "You Should Have Known" -- whose thesis is that if people just paid more attention early on in a (failed) relationship, they would be able to identify all those character traits that ultimately become so unbearable in your partner.

Graces chastises her clients (at least to herself) for not listening to that inner voice.  In an interview about her upcoming book, she says, "If we were to bring to [relationships] a fraction of the care we brought to, for example, our consumer decisions, problems would arise far less than they do?...We'll try on twenty pairs of shoes before we make a purchase.  We'll read reviews by total strangers before we choose someone to install our carpeting.  But we turn off our bullshit detector and toss out our own natural impressions because we find someone attractive, or because he seems interested in us.  He could be holding up a placard that says I will take your money, make passes at your girlfriends and leave you consistently bereft of love and support and we'll find a way to forget that we ever knew that.  We'll find a way to un-know that."  Hmm.

Korelitz' writing is very readable, and she interjects a fair amount of humor and satire into her work.  Take, for instance, the committee meeting for a benefit for her son's school that Grace attends.  On the list of auction items:  a "toe shortening" by a doctor who's "famous for making the second toe shorter than the big toe." And later, at said benefit, Grace meets a woman "whose lips are so swollen that she wonders if the mild looking and slightly distracted looking man with her had recently hit her in the face."  (These scenes made me flash back to "Where'd You Go, Bernadette?" and its hilarious private school event.)

Of course, Grace gets her comeuppance -- in spades.  If only she had applied her advice to her own relationship.  The twists and turns are fairly remarkable, and once I cracked the book open, it was hard to put down.  "You Should Have Known" is a book worth bringing along on your summer vacation.

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