Study Guide

Jonathan Sachs in You Should Have Known

By Jean Hanff Korelitz

Jonathan Sachs

A Tale of Two Husbands

Anybody else hear alarm bells going off when they read this quote from Grace in the very first chapter?

"Then comes the story...[As] human beings, we have such a deep ingrained need for narrative, especially if we're going to play an important role in the narrative, you know, I'm already the heroine and here comes my hero...So we form a story about how he grew up, how women have treated him, how employers have treated him...It's not a good idea to marry a fictional character." - Grace p. 15

Like most of the relationship no-nos Grace cautions against in her book, she is guilty of marrying a "fictional character" herself. Of course, both Grace and Jonathan are fictional characters and not actual human beings, but the Grace in this story has created her own fictional version of Jonathan. It's like Jon-ception.

Fictional Jonathan

Fictional Jonathan pretty much checks all the boxes of Grace's perfect man.

Handsome? Check. Grace says he has a smile that stops the world on its axis, which seems appropriately ominous. Grace immediately fell head over heels for him when she saw him in sweatpants and a wrinkled college T-shirt, carrying a load of dirty laundry. That's not a typical "meet cute" situation, so you know the dude's good-looking. Even Grace's friend Vita, who isn't exactly president of the Jonathan Sachs Fan Club, recognizes that he's "magnetic and adorable." (341-42) (Plus, Hugh Grant's been tapped to play Jonathan in the HBO adaptation of the novel. Swoon.)

Smart? Check. He's a pediatric oncologist who was voted one of the "Best Doctors in NYC." Even more impressively, he put himself through medical school after fleeing his horrible family—a ne'er-do-well basement-dwelling brother, drug addict parents who didn't understand his desire to help others, a traumatic experience where the family dog escaped when he was home alone and everyone blamed him for it. Just call him Dr. Ake: He started from the bottom and now he's here.

Caring? Check. He's the kind of doctor who'll stay late if a patient's having a bad night, the kind of dad who tells his son it's okay to stop playing violin if it doesn't make him happy, and the kind of husband who buys his wife a Birkin bag they really can't afford because he knows how badly she wants one.

If all that sounds too good to be true...it is. Literally everything Fictional Jonathan has ever told Grace about himself is a straight-up, bald-faced lie. He's still hot, but McSteamy's soul is as vile and ugly as they come.

Real Jonathan

Real Jonathan was laid off nine months ago after literally breaking another doctor's fingers during a fight about his affair with a patient's mother. Not only were all those times he stayed late, got urgent calls about patients, and visited grieving families completely made up, but even his regular working hours are a complete mystery. What exactly would a person do from 9 to 5 all day when they haven't told their spouse they've been fired? Surely there are only so many times one can take the "Sex and the City" bus tour before people would start asking questions.

Jonathan's dishonesty about his professional life would fill up most people's lie quota for several years, but he's just getting started. His mistress in the brawl-causing affair was (dun dun DUN) Malaga Alves, making Jonathan the father of baby Elena, the reason Malaga was pregnant when she died, and the prime suspect in her murder, natch.

Still haven't had enough dishonesty? Jonathan also asked Grace's father for $100,000 to pay for private school tuition—not for Henry, but for Miguel, Malaga's fourth-grade son, as a way to keep his side chick happy.

Oh, and the story about the "family dog" for whose escape he claimed his awful family never forgave him? Jonathan's definitely-not-basement-dwelling, elementary school principal brother Mitchell tells Grace what really happened:

The family left for a bat mitzvah, but because the girl was "not remotely attractive," teenage d-bag Jonathan didn't want to go. His parents conceded after their four-year-old son, Aaron, spiked a fever. They asked Jonathan to keep an eye on him in hopes of sparking some brotherly bonding, but when they came home, little Aaron was dead. Maybe all the Axe body spray fumes got to Jonathan's head and he forgot to check on him, or maybe Jonathan forced him to go outside until his fever got worse.

In other words, Jonathan is a total psychopath.

Interestingly, his former employer, Dr. Robertson Sharp III, seems to have a better picture of who Jonathan really is than his own wife does: "Here was a guy who didn't just behave differently to different people, he was a different person depending who he was with. (p. 356-357)."

On that note, one of the most interesting aspects of this character is that we, the readers, never actually meet him. His frequent "work emergencies" keep him away for the first part of the story, and then he disappears after Malaga's murder. The letter he sends Grace in the final chapters of the book is as close as Korelitz allows us to get.

Everything we know about him is filtered through the perspectives and memories of the other characters in his life, and everybody has their own opinions of what he's really like. Quite frankly, we're okay with not meeting him because we are majorly creeped out by "Murder Doc."