Study Guide

You Should Have Known Reinvention

By Jean Hanff Korelitz

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"It's not that I don't believe in human transformation," she said, trying not to sound as defensive as she felt. "Human transformation is possible. It requires immense courage and selflessness, but it does happen. It's just that we spend so much effort on that slim possibility of correction and none at all on the side of prevention." (1.18)

By the end of the book, Grace herself is a transformed human...or at least, she's on her way. Her early assertion to the Vogue interviewer holds up: Uprooting her life and starting over in a new state was immensely courageous, even if she felt like she had no choice. Unlike somebody whose marriage inspires him or her to change, Grace's transformation was spurred on by her selfless love for Henry.

Grace, who had been 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 favored by her parents, and bought Henry shoes at Tru-Tred, the very store she had been taken to as a little girl (where he might have been seated in the same little chair Grace had once sat in and his foot measured by the selfsame measuring tool that had once measured his mother's foot)...was a New Yorker. (3.59-60)

Now that we've all emerged from the Tunnel of Endless Commas, let's discuss: This quote emphasizes how much Grace has at stake when she begins to reinvent herself. She's lived in the same apartment for most of her life and even has emotional attachments to the shoe stores she visits (RIP Payless). Leaving her city-slicking life behind and starting over at the rural lake house is akin to moving to Jupiter for her.

"All right. From 2007 to 2012, multiple citations for harassment involving staff. Two citations pertaining to cash gifts received from patients' families. Two citations for inappropriate contact with patients' families." (12.211)

If there were ever a quote to illustrate Jonathan's ability to reinvent his personality, this would be the one. Grace, his own wife, has no idea about any of this—to the point that she tells the detectives it's B.S.—let alone the fact that all these citations led to her husband's firing nine months ago.

One version of the man was so stiffly delineated that he bordered on cubism, his classic white button-down shirt and khaki pants rigidly arranged in a posture (half-crossed legs, torso in a forward incline, elbow braced almost impossibly on thigh) that looked profoundly uncomfortable; the other rendered him so breathtakingly sensual that Grace assumed some highly mutual (though necessarily silent) flirtation had been ongoing throughout the class (13.224).

Grace is talking about her super-weird collection of art school portraits here, but it's no coincidence that her own husband just so happens to fit this description of a man with two sides.

Afterward, what would astonish her was how easy it had been to disassemble her life. A life—she had to remind herself—of such continuity and stability that not even her address, despite a few digressions, had changed since birth. (17.284)

Emotional turmoil and collapsed marriage notwithstanding, the actual paperwork and logistical details involved in reinventing your life are surprisingly easy.

"I want to have a past to give to Henry. I don't need it to be perfect, just to be real." And it occurred to her, as she heard these things spoken aloud, that she was a tiny bit closer to being almost ready for that herself. (18.319)

Since remembering your husband (or dad) who killed his mistress and then went on the run would understandably be painful, Grace wants to reinvent the past as much as she can—or maybe "reframe" would be a better verb. She realizes that she can't erase Jonathan from their lives, but she can focus on the best parts and tell Henry stories from her own childhood.

"Personality can be the placebo." (20.353)

Jonathan's "charming good guy" persona got him the results he wanted—a doting wife, a prestigious job, a handful of professional accolades—without the laborious task of actually having to be a charming good guy. "Placebo" is a sharp (also a Sharp) word choice here.

"And I started to realize, here was a guy who didn't just behave differently to different people, he was a different person depending on who he was with." (20.356-357)

Dr. Sharp's assertion can't be fun to hear about your husband, but by now Grace knows he's right. Jonathan was Mr. Right to Grace, Dad of the Year to Henry, Dr. McDreamy to his patients...and Mr. Hyde to everyone who got in his way.

"That's not it, not by a long shot." (21.377)

Oh man. This quote from Jonathan's mother, Naomi, makes us emotional. Grace has just recounted a story Jonathan told her about his childhood. Their family dog, Raven, escaped while Jonathan was home alone, and everybody blamed him and resented him for it. Naomi immediately realizes that Jonathan has reinvented this story, swapping a dog for his four-year-old brother and "his horrible family blaming him for no reason" for "everyone knowing he forced his little brother to run around outside with a 101-degree fever."

"You wrote the book about it right?" No, she thought. That was somebody else entirely. (24.433)

This checks out. Grace was so deluded by Jonathan's psychopathy at the beginning of the novel that she believed she had a perfect marriage. That version of Grace is almost unrecognizable now, as she talks to Detective O'Rourke with a full understanding of what a monster her husband truly was.

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