Emotional Health

Book Review: ‘You Should Have Known,’ by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Grace herself had had only a few sessions of psychotherapy during her training. Amazingly, only psychoanalysts are required to have extensive treatment themselves in order to graduate, though many responsible clinicians do it anyway. Grace would have argued that she and Jonathan had the perfect marriage, so it would have been a futile exercise (as well as a waste of his extremely valuable time) for them to engage in couples therapy. But even though she could not admit to herself why she know so well what kind of man to avoid, Grace had a great deal of valuable information that she tried to impart to her patients, however coolly, in her sessions and in her writing.

In fact, when I first started reading about Grace’s book I thought to myself that it sounded a lot like a book that I have wished for—one that helps people identify and, more important, pay attention to the “red flags” that indicate that there may be trouble ahead when you first start dating. Grace, quite reasonably, says that the right time to fix a relationship is before it gets started, and that it’s much easier to cancel a wedding than a marriage. Rather than give a laundry list of things to watch out for, she advises her readers to pay attention to more general patterns. She suggests that you listen to his tone, for example, with an ear to an undercurrent of hostility. Being interviewed for an article in Vogue, for example, Grace explains that “You might hear disdain for ex-partners, or co-workers, or parents and siblings. We all have negative feelings about people in our lives, but hostility as a pattern is problematic. And in men, hostility toward women in general is an enormous red flag.”

Another red flag Grace identifies is the man who exhibits a lack of interest in others or relates to people only in relation to himself and not as separate individuals. She (correctly) asserts that these are symptoms of deep-seated character traits that are unlikely to change after a person has reached adulthood. Believing that couples therapy is useless if you’ve chosen the wrong person to begin with, Grace hopes that her book will help caution readers before they make a mistake that can’t be undone. Speaking to the fictional Vogue interviewer, she says,

“You can know these things [his flaws] from the very beginning, if you’re paying attention, if your eyes and ears and mind are truly open, as they should be open. You can know and then, critically, hold on to that knowledge . . .”

Why was Grace so convinced that she was the person to best write this book? To keep reinforcing her defenses against knowing what an awful choice she had made, which she should have known in the first place. Perhaps the deepest mystery of this novel is discovering why Grace was so sure her eyes were open when they were so firmly shut.

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  • Mary Faucher April 2, 2015 at 9:58 am

    My two cents: I read the highly touted “You Should Have Known” last year and was disappointed – both the social satire and the “mystery” of the true nature of the protagonist’s spouse and her relationship with him fell flat for me. I found a much more convincing and compelling treatment of such relationships in the recently published “Saluting the Sun,” by Mary Hutchings Reed. (Full disclosure: Reed is a friend of mine.) And for social satire, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” nails it and is laugh out loud funny. Not so, “You Should Have Known.”