Reviewed by Becky Benoit
How well do you really know the people you love? It’s a question most of us have probably asked ourselves at one time or another. When you spend years with another person, sharing a house, children, a life, you want to believe that you know that person as well as you know yourself. The idea that your spouse might be keeping secrets from you, hidden beneath an exterior of familiarity and normalcy, is truly disturbing.
For Grace Reinhart Sachs, a New York city counselor, wife and mother, knowing people is her job. Over the years in her professional practice, Grace has seen woman after woman come to her in crisis, and she’s come to believe that, if these women had only followed their intuition when they first met their spouses, they would have recognized subtle clues that foretold future relationship disasters. Her soon-to-be-published book, You Should Have Known, is a manual on how women sabotage their own relationships by ignoring obvious clues early on that indicate their future spouse is a terrible match. Ambiguous sexuality, infidelity, money troubles, addictions – all of these marital woes, Grace believes, can be seen within the early stages of a relationship, and as a therapist, she doesn’t accept the often-heard excuse of, “I didn’t know.” Grace’s argument is that these women should have known.
Her own life is a picture-perfect example of how to choose the ideal spouse. Grace’s husband Jonathan is a pediatric oncologist, a sensitive, caring spouse who spends his days healing sick children and comforting families. He and Grace live with Henry, their 12-year old son, in the upscale apartment where Grace has lived her whole life. Henry attends an elite private school, Rearden Academy, where Grace sits on the fundraising committee. Their life is predictable, but happy, a model marriage which seems to stand as proof of Grace’s theory that the perfect relationship can be built by making good choices and listening to your intuition.
When one of the other mothers on the fundraising committee, a woman whom Grace has only met once, is violently murdered, Grace is disturbed. How could such a thing have happened in a school community like Rearden? And why do the police seem so interested in her family?
As news of the murder hits the media, Grace’s carefully-built life quickly erupts into chaos. Jonathan, ostensibly at a medical conference in the Midwest, is nowhere to be found. As Grace tries with increasing desperation to reach him, disturbing revelations about her husband’s relationship with the deceased woman, as well as his performance at the hospital where he works, makes it clear that Jonathan is not who he seems to be.
With her personal and professional life in tatters, Grace packs up her son and flees to their summer cottage in rural Connecticut. There, far from the intrusive media, the friends who have abandoned her and the painful unanswered questions about Jonathan’s involvement in the murder, Grace is forced to come to terms with a terrifying fact. After 18 years of marriage, is it possible that she has never really known her husband? Could she have been sharing her life with a dangerous, violent psychopath?
In this thriller, author Jean Hanff Korelitz stretches out the suspense, revealing one terrible discovery after another as Grace seeks to understand who she has been married to all these years. The novel has a bit of a slow start, but once you’re immersed in the story, the suspense will keep you flipping pages. Hanff Korelitz, a resident of both rural New York and the city itself, also does an impressive job of revealing the microcosms within the enormous metropolis of New York, drawing connections between communities and families everywhere which will resonate with the reader, whether you live in small-town rural Alberta or a huge city.
You Should Have Known is a well-timed, nuanced and emotional thriller of a novel.