“You Should Have Known” Behind “The Undoing”

Based on the novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, David E. Kelley‘s six-part mini-series The Undoing premieres Sunday on HBO Max. Stars include Nicole Kidman—as a therapist—and Hugh Grant as her husband.

As some people like to read it before seeing it, this post previews the book. But first, a little background about author Korelitz: her mom is a therapist, who apparently “always brought home cautionary tales to my sister and me about not believing what someone tells you. She went to great pains to get us to understand that just because someone says something doesn’t mean it’s true. We all want to believe that someone is telling the truth – especially if we’re attracted to them” (amny.com).

And thus, main character Grace Reinhart Sachs is a New York shrink whose new nonfiction self-help book is You Already Know: Why Women Fail to Hear What the Men in Their Lives are Telling Them.

Richard Fitzpatrick, Irish Examiner, about this book-within-a-book: “Grace’s thesis is that women delude themselves when picking men. They’re blinded by the need for narrative — to save the man, or that they’re ‘already the heroine and here comes my hero’. They fail to read their self-deception, unwilling to notice the signs that tell them an embezzler, a liar, or a womaniser stands before them.”

Grace herself is in a long-term marriage to Jonathan, a pediatric oncologist; they have a 12-year-old son. From the publisher, additional info:

…(W)eeks before the book is published a chasm opens in her own life: a violent death, a missing husband, and, in the place of a man Grace thought she knew, only an ongoing chain of terrible revelations. Left behind in the wake of a spreading and very public disaster, and horrified by the ways in which she has failed to heed her own advice, Grace must dismantle one life and create another for her child and herself.

In the first part of the novel readers see how private-school moms live. Then a woman, not someone from her social realm, is found murdered. Publishers Weekly breaks it down further: “Grace, already tense and sad from these events, becomes more and more anxious as Jonathan, at a medical conference in the Midwest, proves unreachable over several days. The author deftly places the reader in Grace’s shoes by exploring her isolation, unease, and contempt for the rumor mill.”

Selected Reviews of You Should Have Known

Maureen Corrigan, Washington Post: “It artfully combines wit and suspense into an irresistible domestic nightmare.”

John Harding, Daily Mail, asks a pertinent question or two: “Would such a high profile therapist really not be having – and indeed never have had – therapy herself, or regular supervision of her work by another therapist? And surely her professional expertise and intuition would have led to clearer understanding of her own marriage?”

Susan Dominus, New York Times:

Korelitz manages to pull off the contrivance that Grace, having written an entire book about blind spots, could be so spectacularly sabotaged by her own: The advice book is understood as the clanging of an alarm, the product of Grace’s own subconscious raging to be heard. In contrast, the novel’s resolution feels surprisingly neat and tidy for a story about the messiness of the mind.

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2 thoughts on ““You Should Have Known” Behind “The Undoing”


    Various articles I read on the series clearly stated that the killer in the book was Jonathan but that the series was going a very different route. Stated in a way that implied not Jonathan.
    As a result I counted him out and when the “big reveal” was that it WAS Jonathan, felt like cheap shot. The involvement of Jonathan’s mom was actually creepy to me. She still blames him for the 4 year old daughter’s death. Who leaves a young teenage boy to watch a 4 year old? The mother (or father) needed to step up on that one. Not blame their son and then diagnose him. As a therapist (child psychiatry) I found that especially egregious.

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