Jean Hanff Korelitz is also the author of "Admission." Credit: Mark Czajkowski
Most people pride themselves on knowing when someone is lying. When we hear about former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's outrageous illicit affairs or Bernie Madoff's massive Ponzi scheme, we look at their smart and stylish wives and think, "She must have known, right? How could she not have?" This "should have known" belief is the idea behind Jean Hanff Korelitz's latest novel.
The book's protagonist is Grace, a therapist living the life she's always wanted. Married to a sympathetic pediatric oncologist, she has an intelligent and respectful son and has just written a highly anticipated self-help book cautioning women to hear what men are telling them at the very beginning of a relationship. But when Grace's husband goes missing and she finds herself in the middle of a media frenzy, she's left wondering how she could have missed her own advice.
According to Korelitz, you'd be surprised how many smart women have their own "should have known" moment. "The British publisher asked everyone who worked at the publishing company to submit their 'should have known' moments and I got to pick the winner. These women are very, very smart. They're working for this great publisher, yet they all seem to have some story where you wanted to look at them and think, 'Really? Really?'"
The winner of the aforementioned contest was a woman who went on a first date with a guy who told her that he saw sexuality as free-flowing and not something you can put in a box. "She dated him for years and, of course, he turned out to be gay," Korelitz muses.
Like Korelitz's other novels — among them "Admission" — this one is about a smart, independent woman who isn't entirely likeable. "Every single one of my novels starts with a woman who seems to have her s— together but is destroyed by the middle or end of the book," she says. "If this is an unconscious choice, it's so unconscious that it might as well be conscious. It's an overwhelming comparative, almost, to look at these women and basically take them apart and strip them down and see what's left."
In this novel, the principal character is a much different woman than the one you meet at the beginning of the book. You, too, just might be changed after finishing "You Should Have Known" — a little more discerning, a little more aware, and a little less critical of those wives the camera pans to during the next high-profile press conference.