Grace Sachs, the protagonist in Jean Hanff Korelitz’s compelling domestic thriller You Should Have Known, is an outspoken marriage counsellor who believes that women know from the very beginning if their partners are duds.
Over and over I’ve heard women describe their early interactions with their partner, and their early impressions of their partner. And listening to them, I continually thought: You knew right at the beginning. She knows he’s never going to stop looking at other women. She knows he can’t save money. She knows he’s contemptuous of her…But then she somehow lets herself unknow what she knows.
Grace’s tough talk is easy enough: she’s married to the perfect man, Jonathan, a pediatric oncologist and they have a twelve-year-old-son, Henry.
…she had chosen him, and now, as a result, she was having the right life, with the right husband, the right child, the right home, the right work.
Turns out, though, that all those rights actually make a wrong.
When the mother of one of the students at Henry’s school is murdered, the violent act opens up a fissure in Grace’s perfect life. First, her husband, who is away at a medical conference, stops answering her calls and texts. Then, she discovers his phone – not with him, but hidden in his bedside table. And then the police come knocking.
Grace’s life – it turns out – is a sham, and You Should Have Known unravels like any good thriller, stringing the reader (and Grace) along. The whodunit part of the story isn’t actually what’s interesting about Hanff Korelitz’s narrative though. It’s that Grace, a therapist who tells her patients to trust their guts, didn’t trust hers.