Study Guide

You Should Have Known Setting

By Jean Hanff Korelitz

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Upper East Side and Rural Connecticut, Present Day

Little Slice of the Big Apple

Gossip Girl and Law & Order.
The Catcher in the Rye and Stuart Little.
Goodfellas and The Devil Wears Prada.

There's a reason New York City is a ubiquitous setting for TV shows, books, and movies: In a city that large and diverse, you'll never run out of stories to tell. Setting a novel in the city that never sleeps is a massive undertaking, but Korelitz combats this issue by zooming in—way in—on just a few blocks.

Grace considers her address on "81st between Madison and Park an ‘under the radar' street, meaning that it boasted no building of particular prestige, no landmark like a church or hospital or private school...Instead there were only four apartment buildings...just a little backwater for families like the one she'd come from and the one she had" (13.13).

This physical address emphasizes Grace's isolation from other Rearden parents, most of whom live in fancy Park Avenue penthouses or large brownstones. In her apartment on a side street off Park Avenue, she's just close enough to socialize with her wealthy peers, but not close enough to form true friendships.

It's also worth noting that Grace has lived in this same little slice of the Big Apple for most of her life. As she describes it during one of her character-developing streams of consciousness, she was "born on 77th street and reared on 81st, who now lived, indeed, in the apartment of her childhood and sent her son to the school she herself had attended, who used the dry cleaner her mother had used and still ate in some of the restaurants once favored by her parents…(3.12)".

That may sound stifling, but it's truly not to Grace. She loves the familiarity of her neighborhood and the lifetime of memories she's made there. It's where she feels most comfortable, and she seems fully content to stay in her bubble—until she physically can't any more.

Rural Retreat

On that note, when Grace and Henry flee the media circus and head for her family's lake house, it's about as far outside of her comfort zone as Grace has ever been. Of course, the lake house has been in her family for generations, so it's not like they're moving to Djibouti or something. However, she's never tried to navigate life without Jonathan or life outside her NYC comfort zone, so it's a monumental adjustment.

Hiding out at the lake house physically isolates them, not just from any nosy reporters, but from their old friends, classmates, and clients as well. Grace even takes the house phone off the hook after somebody calls for her. She's extremely worried that somebody will find them or that they won't handle their new surroundings well.

As they begin to settle in, though, Grace and Henry actually become more connected to their new community than they were in New York. Henry tries out for the baseball team and makes friends easily at his new school, which turns out to be academically challenging and not full of "backwoods degenerates, glue-sniffing video game addicts who'd finger her son as an aesthete intellectual" (19.2) as had Grace initially feared. You can take the girl out of her judgmental social circle, but you can't take the judgment out of the girl.

Meanwhile, Grace not only reconnects with Vita but also develops a "friends-first" relationship with musician Leo. His bandmates are more than happy to welcome Grace and Henry into their little gang, if for no other reason than they need more Facebook fans. On a professional level, Grace decides to join a group practice in Connecticut instead of flying solo in her therapy career.

When a much more content Grace returns to pack up her Upper East Side apartment at the end of the book, she truly seems like a different character than the Grace who didn't know how she'd survive outside of New York just a few months earlier.

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