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Authors: Jean Hanff Korelitz

You Should Have Known

BOOK: You Should Have Known
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For Asher

U
sually people cried when they came here for the first time, and this girl looked as if she'd be no exception. She walked in with a briefcase and a swagger and shook Grace's hand like the cool professional she clearly was, or at least wished to be. Then she sat on the couch and crossed one long twill-encased leg over the other. And
then
, sort of abruptly, she seemed to register where she was, with a wallop.

“Oh wow,” said the girl, whose name—Grace had double-checked a few minutes earlier—was Rebecca Wynne. “I haven't been in a therapist's office since college.”

Grace sat in her customary chair, crossed her own much shorter legs, and leaned forward. She couldn't help it.

“It's so bizarre! The minute you come in here, you just want to start bawling.”

“Plenty of Kleenex.” Grace smiled. How many times had she sat in this chair, with her legs crossed just the way they were now, listening to the room fill up with weeping. Weeping happened here so often, she sometimes imagined her office underwater, as in one of the magical Betty MacDonald stories she'd loved as a child, where the crybaby protagonist literally couldn't stop sobbing until the water had risen to her chin. When there was extreme anger, the shouting kind or the silent, venomous kind, she envisioned the walls of her office (in actuality painted a very innocuous off-white) turning dark with rage. When there was happiness or accord, she sometimes imagined she could smell sweet pine, as from late summer at the lake.

“Well, it's just a room,” she said cheerily. “With boring furniture.”

“Right.” Rebecca looked around, as if this needed confirmation. The room—Grace's consulting room—had been constructed with immense care to be many things at once: comfortable but not particularly inviting, warm without troubling individuality, decorated with things so familiar they commonly resonated: that Eliot Porter print of the birches she had up beside the door—hadn't everyone lived with that poster at some point? dorm room? summer rental?—the red kilim rug, the oatmeal-colored couch, and her own swiveling leather chair. There was a glass-topped coffee table with a single box of Kleenex in a leather holder and an old country pine desk in the corner, its drawers stocked with yellow legal pads and lists of psychopharmacologists, child psychologists, smoking-cessation hypnotherapists, real estate agents, travel agents, mediators, estate planners, divorce attorneys. On the desktop, pens protruded from an unlovely ceramic mug her son, Henry, had made in first grade (this was an item that had, over the years, elicited an astonishing number of comments, ushered into speech a remarkable number of impacted memories), and a white ceramic lamp with a burlap shade threw discreet light on the proceedings. The only window overlooked the back alley of the building, and there was never anything out there to see, despite one attempt years earlier to install a planter of some bright no-brainer flora—geraniums, actually, and ivy. The superintendent had signed off on this project, though his enthusiasm stopped well short of helping her maneuver the wooden planter off its truck and down the alley to its resting spot, but the plants had starved for light and the planter itself disappeared soon after, leaving a dark mark on the cement that persisted. She was not a flower person, really.

Today, though, she had actually brought in flowers: dark pink roses, on the specific recommendation of Sarabeth, who—as the Great Day drew ever nearer—was becoming more and more inclined to micromanage. Not only must Grace purchase flowers for this occasion, but they must be roses, and the roses must be pink—
dark
pink.

Dark pink roses.
Why?
Grace had wondered. Sarabeth wasn't expecting a color photograph, was she? Was it not sufficiently incredible that
Vogue
magazine had a black-and-white picture's worth of interest in her? But she'd done as she was told, plunking them in the only vase she had in the office's little galley kitchen, from a forgotten flower delivery (end-of-treatment flowers? thank-you-for-showing-me-I-had-to-leave-him flowers? Jonathan flowers?), awkwardly and not very prettily spreading them out. Now they sat on one of the end tables, in some danger of being overturned by Rebecca's heavy wool coat.

“You know,” Grace said, “you're right about the crying. Usually it takes a lot out of people just to get here. Or in the case of my practice, to get their partner here. It's very common to see people just let go when they finally make it through the door for the first time. It's perfectly all right.”

“Well, another time, perhaps,” the girl said. She was thirty, Grace thought, give or take, and pretty, if a bit severe, and the clothes she wore had been rather cleverly designed to conceal her actual body type, which was plainly curvaceous and buxom, and present in its place the fiction that she was boyish and lean. The white cotton shirt looked as if it had been tailored expressly for this purpose, and the brown twill pants hit at exactly the right spot to suggest a waist that was barely there. Both pieces were triumphs of illusion and had clearly been made by someone who knew exactly what they were doing—but when one worked for
Vogue
, Grace imagined, one had access to such people.

Rebecca rummaged around in the briefcase at her booted feet, then extracted an ancient tape recorder, which she placed on the glass-topped table. “Do you mind?” she asked. “I know, it's like an antique, but I need it as a backup. I once spent four hours with a certain pop star not known for her ability to speak in complete sentences, and I had this little space-age gadget the size of a matchbook. When I tried to play it back later there was absolutely nothing there. Most terrifying moment of my career.”

“It must have been.” Grace nodded. “Obviously, you managed to handle the setback.”

Rebecca shrugged. Her fine blond hair was cut in a sort of highly constructed mess, and she wore a silver necklace that lay along her clavicles. “I made her sound so smart she'd have been crazy not to confirm the quotes when they fact-checked. Not that I wasn't worried. But her publicist actually told my editor it was her favorite interview she'd ever done, so I came out smelling like a rose.” She stopped. She looked squarely at Grace. “You know,” she said with a half-smile, “it occurs to me that I should not have said that. Another effect of being in a therapist's office. You sit on the couch, you spill the beans.”

Grace smiled.

Rebecca, with an audible click, depressed the pertinent buttons on her tape recorder. Then she reached back into her briefcase and extracted an old-fashioned steno pad and a shiny bound galley.

“Oh, you have the book!” said Grace. It was still so new, it amazed her to see it in anyone else's possession. As if the entire endeavor had been to produce a vanity item for herself alone.

“Of course,” said the girl coolly. Her professionalism, her control of the meeting, seemed to have been restored to her in the same instant Grace had shown herself to be such a neophyte. But she couldn't help it. It was still so strange to see the book in its actual book-flesh: her book,
her own book
, not quite in the world but very near now, due with the new year—the best time, Sarabeth the agent and Maud the editor and J. Colton the publicist (J. Colton! that was really her name!) had insisted, to publish a book like this. Even after the months of revision, the actual bound galley (so physical, so solidly reassuring), the contract, the
check
(deposited immediately, as if it might evaporate), the catalog listing—all very realistic, all very
This is actually happening to me
. She had given a presentation at the publisher's sales conference last spring, to a gallery of note-taking, road-weary reps, all grinning at her (a few sidling up afterward to ask advice for their own suffering marriages—well, she'd better get used to that, she supposed). Even after the wild day a year earlier when Sarabeth phoned in every hour to report increasingly incredible tidings. Someone wanted it. Someone else wanted it. Someone…no, two others, no, three, and then chattering away in a dialect Grace could not comprehend: a preempt, a floor (
a floor
?
Grace wondered), audio and digital, sweeteners for “the List” (she did not discover what “the List” was until she actually read the contract). None of it seemed to compute. Grace had been reading for years about the death of publishing, but here was a pulsing, pushing, manic industry where she had expected a desiccated corpse: yet another outdated form of American manufacture, moldering alongside the steel mills and the gold mines. She mentioned this to Sarabeth once, when the auction in its third day was upended by a late entry, setting off a rash of new bids. Wasn't publishing supposed to be dead? That's what the magazines kept saying, after all. Sarabeth had laughed. Publishing was indeed fairly dead, she assured Grace, sounding very upbeat about this news. Except when you happened to snag the Zeitgeist. Her book,
You Should Have Known
, was apparently about to snag the Zeitgeist.

It had taken her two solid years to write it, sitting there at that desk in the corner, with her laptop open, between clients, and at the table in their bedroom at the lake, heavy oak, water stained, with its view of the dock, and the kitchen counter at home on 81st Street, at night, with Jonathan still at the hospital or gone to bed, exhausted from his day, and Henry asleep with some book unfurled over his chest and the light still on. She had written it with a mug of ginger tea dangerously close to the keyboard and her notes set out along the countertop all the way down to the sink at the other end, the old case files feathered with Post-it notes. As she wrote, her long-held theories became flesh, then more refined flesh, then downright authoritative-sounding flesh, the folksy wisdom she hadn't known she possessed until she read it on the page, the conclusions she seemed to have reached before she even began her practice fifteen years earlier. (Because she had learned nothing? Because she had been right in the first place?) In fact, she couldn't recall ever having learned how to do the work she did as a therapist, despite, naturally, having gone through the classwork and fieldwork, done her reading and written her papers, and collected the necessary degree. She had always known how to do this; she couldn't remember
not
knowing it. She might have walked out of high school straight into this small, tidy office and been as effective a professional as she was today, helped as many couples, prevented as many women from marrying men who would never make them happy. She knew that this did not make her special, or even clever. She viewed her ability not as God-given (God had never been anything to her but a subject of historical, cultural, or artistic interest), but as synthesized from nature and nurture, something along the lines of a naturally gifted ballerina lucky enough to have long legs
and
a parent willing to ferry her to dance classes. For whatever reason—or, more probably, for no reason at all—Grace Reinhart Sachs had been born with a predisposition for social observation and insight and reared in an atmosphere of ideas and conversation. She couldn't sing or dance or fold numbers together and pull them apart. She couldn't play music, like her son, or make dying children live, like her husband—both skills she would have been thrilled and humbled to possess—but she could sit down with people and see, usually very quickly, usually with unnerving clarity, what snares they were setting for themselves and how not to fall into them. Or, if they were already ensnared—and typically, if they were here with her, they were already ensnared—how to free themselves. That writing down these obvious things had brought
Vogue
magazine to her unremarkable little office was fascinating and naturally a little exciting, but it was also slightly bizarre. Why should anyone be awarded a national platform for pointing out that day followed night, or that the economy was subject to reversals, or any other readily observable thing? (Sometimes, when she thought about her book and what it would say to the women who were going to read it, she felt almost ashamed of herself, as if she were about to market some miracle cure that had long been available on the drugstore shelf.) Then again, there were things that could not be said too many times or loudly enough.

A few weeks earlier, she had sat down for a special lunch in the private dining room at Craft, with a table of clearly cynical (but professionally fascinated) bookers for media outlets. Over the sound of gently clicking silver, Grace had talked about her book and fielded boilerplate queries (one from a notably hostile man in a crimson bow tie) about why
You Should Have Known: Why Women Fail to Hear What the Men in Their Lives Are Telling Them
was different from all other books on the subject of relationships. Clearly, Tom Colicchio's food was the draw here. She spent a bit too much time attending to the magazine editor seated beside her (being, in other words, force-fed the woman's own tale of expensive divorce) and found, to her great regret, that the waiter came to take her plate long before she had had her way with the lamb shank. It had felt very unauthorlike to ask for a doggie bag.

After the lunch, though, J. Colton the publicist had indeed begun to call with news of interviews and television appearances, all as a result of the luncheon. The expensively divorced editor assigned a feature in
More
, and the hostile man in the bow tie booked her for an AP feature (making it all so very worth it, even Grace had to admit). The
Vogue
article was scheduled soon after that. The ball, clearly, was rolling.

She had (at Maud the editor's request) drafted an op-ed piece on why January was such a popular time of year to file for divorce (holiday stresses plus new year resolve) and (at J. Colton the publicist's request) endured a bizarre session with a media coach, learning precisely how to cock her head toward a television host, ingratiate herself to a studio audience, slip the title of her book into the most incongruous of verbal constructs without—she hoped—sounding like a robotic narcissist, and make perfectly formed sound bites.

BOOK: You Should Have Known
13.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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