I have a particular affinity for certain words.
Masticate. It sounds so lascivious, doesn’t it? Yet it means “to chew.”
Schadenfreude. Leave it to the Germans to have a word for “joy in other people’s misery.”
And hubris. Ah, hubris. The cause of the hoisting of one’s petard. The reason behind Trump Tower and the Dallas Cowboys.
Hubris. Excessive pride or ambition.
As I read this book, “hubris” kept popping up in my mind. So many characters seem to suffer from it, and given that Korelitz’s writing is realistic and relatable, I wonder, then: do we all suffer from hubris? Is it part of the human condition?
In the case of Grace Reinhart, perhaps pride is not so excessive. Certainly not enough to cause what happens to her.
Grace is a therapist whose patients come to her, as most do to therapists, searching for answers. Grace believes that they knew the answers all along, that if they had only paid attention, not been so quick to ignore the evidence in front of them – if they had only seen reality as opposed to what they wanted to see – then they would realize that they knew. Because, really, they should have known.
In fact, she wrote a book about it. You Should Have Known. She is in the final stages of pre-publication, working with her editor and publisher, granting early interviews. Grace’s theory is simple, but true: the clues were there all along. You just chose to overlook them or make excuses for them or wish them away.
You should have known.
Of course, when you write a book about something like that, your own house better be spotless. And Grace’s appears to be. Her son Henry is twelve, suitably precocious, and ensconced at the same New York City private school she attended. Her husband Jonathan is an acclaimed pediatric oncologist – he treats children with cancer, for goodness’ sake. She’s an only child, her mother having passed away when Grace was in college and her father remarried. She is successful, but not too successful.
Life is good for Grace Reinhart.
But then there is a grisly death.
And Jonathan goes missing.
And every certainty Grace had becomes uncertain, questioned.
She should have known, right?
Jean Hanff Korelitz weaves her tale with the precision of a master chef, slicing, dicing, and sauteeing her characters into various confections of deliciousness for us readers.
Grace is a fantastic character: fully complex and fully realized. Her hubris is in her somewhat smug, somewhat frustrated response to her patients’ problems. If Grace can see within three minutes that your husband prefers the company of men, why haven’t you? As they weep in her office, Grace responds with professional empathy, albeit with some personal tsk-ing. When she recalls her history with Jonathan, we begin to see what Grace did (would) not. We also harbor, before she does, certain suspicions of Jonathan, as well as of another character. Because we care about her, we also hope that our suspicions are wrong. Not that she’s perfect, mind you. Grace is a bit too caught up in her world to pay attention to those details that she would condemn her patients for ignoring. She judges. She suffers jealousies and insecurities. She gets frustrated and snippy.
But she’s a good mother, devoted to Henry, and she adores Jonathan, admiring him to the point of awe.
As developed as Grace is, Jonathan is a mystery, and that is entirely by design. I was frustrated by how little I knew him, which only made me more concerned for Grace. The question here – how well do we know our spouse – is not the point, though. Korelitz believes, and hopes you understand as well, that we only know what our spouse wants us to know. We only know, Korelitz posits, what we want to know.
Occasionally the pacing is off (we spend a bit too much time with Grace’s patients), and there are a couple of threads that are a bit too neatly tied up. So is the book perfect? No, but it is deeply, richly entertaining and engrossing.
The ending is something I would dearly love to discuss with you faithful readers, so please hit up the comments and let me know your thoughts. I’d also love to know your reaction to this book.
Read it. READ IT.