A positive magazine review induced me to declare that You Should Have Known would be my one mystery novel for the year. The protagonist is a marriage therapist in Manhattan who writes a book about how women should have been able to predict, by carefully listening to the man they were were dating, exactly how that man would turn out to be an inadequate husband. The Manhattan men in the book do turn out not to have been prizes. Either they aren’t supportive enough emotionally (therapist’s remedy: divorce them) or they are having affairs. The ones who were secretly gay and are having affairs with other men are fairly harmless. When the men are having affairs with women, however, children are often the result and that leads to drama.
The first half of the book is interesting for its depiction of people finding out that they don’t know the folks around them as well as they thought (hint: the therapist finds out that her husband had a secret or two). The latter portion is seriously marred by a woman whose problems are solved by … finding a man. This is a sensitive non-threatening man who seems to be in touch with his feminine side, mind you, but there is no explanation of why this guy is trustworthy where all of the others turned out to be secretly gay/cheating/whatever.
Another interesting angle in the book is the lack of any security in a modern marriage (at least when one of the partners is a man). In New York, in the scenarios covered by the author, a woman who is married to a man has only a weak claim on his income, for example. If he has been exploring the town and quietly getting other women pregnant, it is the other women who have first bite at the guy’s income (example: by statute, Child Support Plaintiff #1 will get 17% of the man’s pre-tax income; Plaintiff #2 will get 17% of the remaining 83%; Plaintiff 3 will get 17% of 0.83 squared; after federal and state taxes, then, that leaves basically nothing for the wife and any children with that wife (also nothing for any fourth plaintiff)).
Finally there is the angle of therapy and therapists. Are they helpful because they wise? Are they helpful because attending psychotherapy sessions forces clients to focus and reflect? Or are therapists simply not helpful for most people?
The book could be better-written and better-crafted but it can be thought-provoking and it held my attention on a commercial airline flight.
What I’m reading now:The Great Texas Wind Rush
[Some excerpts, added by reader demand!
Inside the courtyard [of the fancy Manhattan private school], on the privileged side of the velvet rope, Grace saw that there were very few nannies in evidence. The concerned mothers of Rearden seemed to have decided, en masse, that some moments in a child’s life, like Max’s first school murder or Chloe’s first media circus, were just too sensitive to leave to a surrogate. So the mothers themselves had dropped everything and were here for their children, waiting for the kids to be released by Robert Conover’s grief counselors.
[the protagonist's theme for her book] You knew he was in debt: You’re the one who paid off his Visa bill! You knew that when he went out at night he came back plastered. You knew he thought you weren’t up to his level intellectually, because he went to Yale and you went to U Mass. And if you didn’t know, you should have known, because it could not have been clearer, even back then at the very start.
[a friend reviews history with a woman who made an ill-advised marriage decision] I asked you to tell me what it was you loved about him, and then I asked you to tell me, for every one of those things, how you knew they were true. And you said, more or less, because they just were. And I asked you why you thought he was so estranged from his family. Why he seemed to have no other friends. I asked you if you were worried about how quickly he’d kind of become the most important person in your life. I asked you if the reason he seemed so perfect for you was that you had made it really clear to him what perfect for you meant, and he gave you back exactly what you wanted,