Study Guide

You Should Have Known Attention

By Jean Hanff Korelitz

Attention

"You know how we always tell ourselves, You never know, when someone does something we don't see coming? We're shocked that he turns out to be a womanizer, or an embezzler. He's an addict. He lied about everything...And when it happens we just throw up our hands: We say: Wow, you never know about people. And we never hold ourselves accountable for what we bring to the deception." (1.11)

At the beginning of the book, Grace's answer to "You never know" is "You should have known"—the inspiration for the title of her own book and the larger novel. That smug superiority comes back to bite her in just a few chapters.

"What kind of man kills the mother of his child?" her stepmother said, and Grace, who was now grating cheddar over the cutting board, rolled her eyes. I don't know, she thought, a bad one? (8.133)

Well, Grace isn't exactly wrong...but she also doesn't realize her own husband killed this woman for getting pregnant with his second love child, so we'd be hesitant to call her right here either.

She had no idea what had happened to Malaga Alves, and with every passing moment she found herself caring less. Malaga, the poor woman—the dead woman—had nothing to do with her, but there was an asteroid on the horizon, and it got bigger, denser, and more terrible with every passing hour. Where was Jonathan? (10.170)

If it were possible to reach into the pages of a book, pick a character up by her shoulders, and shake some sense into her, we would do that for Grace right about now. Seriously, her obliviousness to the fact that Malaga's case is connected to Jonathan's disappearance is unbelievable.

"I just really thought you knew." (15.267)

If this is Detective Mendoza's attempt to comfort Grace after revealing that her fugitive husband fathered a child with his murdered mistress, it's not working...but then again, you should have known, right, Grace?

"But you just looked and looked at something, and I used to say to your mother, ‘There's a lot going on in there. She looks at everything.'" Looks at everything. Grace thought. And sees nothing. (18.317)

Whatever powers of observation baby Grace possessed that so impressed her father, she was completely blind to her own parents' unhappy marriage. Hmm, this is starting to seem like a trend.

"There were a lot of folks he didn't notice, but they still noticed him. They found him very interesting, watching him operate. And you know, it takes a lot of effort to hold up the mask he had." (20.359)

Once again, peripheral figures in Jonathan's life noticed more about him than his own wife did. Perhaps if she'd paid more attention to the way Jonathan trashed his co-workers, she might have realized he wasn't so wonderful after all.

Or at least, it occurred to her, I loved the person I thought he was. That was a small but critical discrepancy. (21.387)

This is Grace's Great Mistake: She fell in love with a version of Jonathan that didn't really exist. "Grace's husband" Jonathan was incredibly, purposefully different than the sullen, horrible teenage Jonathan his family grew up with, so for his dad to say he loved that Jonathan too is really incredible.

"Maybe right and wrong isn't the best way to think about it. Maybe it's more complicated that." She took a breath. "I'm sure I wasn't perfect. And I might not have known what was going on with Daddy, but I think I should have known. That's my part of being responsible." (22.399).

We're mildly annoyed that Grace is still hanging onto the "should have known" idea so late in the game, but at least she expresses a more nuanced take on it in her heart-to-heart chat with Henry. Unfortunately, You Should Have Known But It's Also Kind of Understandable that You Didn't Because Humans Are Not Robots And Love is Complicated isn't a very catchy title.

"Just...picked the wrong friends, right?" "Picked the wrong guy. it happens all the time." Don't I know it, Grace thought. (24.437)

This exchange with Detective O'Rourke in the last few paragraphs of the novel might be exactly what Grace needs to hear. She's not "above" making the same mistakes others make in relationships, and that's 100% okay. She's human just like the people she once judged so harshly. Live and let learn. Just...maybe next time don't marry a psychopath.

Just now, she was so focused on the idea that it had happened before and signified nothing that she utterly failed to note the significance of it having happened before at all. Which, had a patient performed this sleight of hand in her presence, she would certainly have pointed out. (8.148)

This short paragraph is one of the only times in the entire book that Korelitz takes readers out of Grace's unreliable head and introduces a truly omniscient narrator. It's the literary equivalent of dressing in a neon jumpsuit while riding a unicycle and yelling through a bullhorn, "Hey! Pay attention to this! It's very important!"

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