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The plot didn't seem very credible, but it is an interesting read for discussion groups.

You Should Have Known - Jean Hanff Korelitz

This is not your typical mystery. The reader is pretty much aware of who the murderer is from the get-go. What the reader doesn’t know is why it happened and how the murderer’s obvious emotional illness escaped his wife. Was he a genius or a psychopath? Did she not follow her own advice and choose him the way she would have chosen a head of lettuce?

What do we know about the characters in this book? Grace Sachs is a therapist who specializes in marriage counseling. Her husband, Jonathan, is a devoted pediatric oncologist. She loves the life they have together and totally believes in the sacrifices his work requires him to make. They live in New York City with their only child, in the same apartment that she grew up in, and their son Henry, who is 12 years old, goes to the same tony private school that she attended as a child. Henry is very well behaved and very likeable; he plays the violin and might be a little bit of a geek. The family lives in its own bubble and is basically self sufficient, needing very little interaction with others; they are isolated from all but some immediate family members. There are secrets lurking here that will explode to the surface as the book reveals their story.

This book seems to be another in that popular genre of today, with characters stereotyped as spoiled rich women with children in an exclusive school. The woman are depicted as shallow and petty, blind to their own foibles, too vain and materialistic, too hedonistic, too quick to criticize and judge others and not themselves. They see themselves and the world through their own rose colored glasses and they are not particularly loyal to anyone. Most of the men are portrayed as governed, not by their brains but rather by their gender and sex.

Grace Sachs has recently written a book, bearing the same name as the title of this book, “You Should Have Known”, which details the reasons married couples should have realized they were making a mistake before taking that fateful step down the aisle. Almost immediately, she writes, one of the spouses reveals to the other exactly who they are and what they will be like, but for some reason, she believes they choose to misremember what happened in their initial meeting. They create a fairytale scene around it, only remembering hints about the problems to come, when a crisis erupts. She believes that women more than men, know when they marry, that the partner they have chosen is wrong for them, but they put on blinders. In her arrogance, has Grace’s own eyesight failed?

Grace is a member of the Fundraising Committee at Henry’s school. At the last meeting, before their major fundraising event takes place, she meets Malaga Alves, a new committee member. Her son, Miguel, attends the school as a scholarship student. In the days to come, Malaga will unexpectedly have a major impact on Grace’s life, turning it completely upside down and forcing her to face very difficult questions she may not be able to answer.

As a couple, seemingly by choice, Grace and Jonathan have few friends. They are preoccupied with their work and raising their son. They live together, but also separately in their own worlds, not interfering with each other’s domain, rarely questioning each other’s activities. When a crisis arises, Grace discovers that she has been irresponsible about the relationships in her own life, failing to see what she would have seen as a therapist dealing with strangers. When it counted most, she was distracted. Now that she was facing her own very traumatic situation, she seemed too weak to deal with it maturely. I found her reactions awkward and difficult to understand. Every time she was faced with a new problem, or with uncomfortable, previously unknown information, she got weak-kneed and threw up! It was not very professional behavior, and I kept thinking, perhaps she needed to hire her own therapist!

Even after her world explodes around her, and she becomes involved in a murder investigation, she doesn’t face things head on, but skirts around the issues, avoiding them. She takes to her bed like an ostrich with her head in the sand, pretending that all will be well. I found her behavior inappropriate and not very credible.

I found the first 100 pages slow to get into, but then the story picked up and held my interest. There are some issues that would lend themselves to group discussions, and for that reason, it is a good read for book clubs. The major hump to get over when reading the book is that a trained therapist never questioned or saw what was happening in front of her eyes for 18 years. She just seemed too naïve, considering her chosen profession, to have constantly made excuses for the odd circumstances of her life, without looking any further than the excuses provided by her husband. Was she really living in such a controlled environment, and was she really in such control of her own emotions that she never questioned any change in her friendships or lifestyles, other than to say, ho hum, oh well? Also, in the end, the author worked out her life a bit too comfortably. It was almost a fairy tale. Long lost relatives appeared and welcomed them into their lives after two decades. She has found a male companion and Henry finds his new school to be utopia for him. Henry is just too perfect, also. He is like the adult in the room, rather than Grace.

I found the conclusion of the book unsatisfying with questions that remained unanswered. Does Henry go on to have a successful life? How does Miguel fare with his father? Does Grace remarry? Is Jonathan caught and convicted? Does Elena ever get to meet Miguel, her half brother? Is the ending even plausible? I think the book could probably have been shorter, but it is a quick read and will hold your interest while on vacation or commuting to work. The book is a suspenseful mystery, but it won’t tax your brain trying to figure it out. The looming question at the end will be, is the plot credible?