You Should Have Known is Jean Hanff Korelitz's new novel about a super successful marriage therapist who finds out her own husband has been keeping big -- and we do mean big -- secrets. Best known as the author of Admission, which became a film starring Tina Fey, Korelitz once again writes as if she's a fly on the wall, or a spy under the bed, in our complicated, modern, urban lives. We asked this observant writer to answer some of our favorite questions.
What's the elevator pitch for your book?
A marriage counselor -- with some very harsh opinions on how women fool themselves about men -- has no idea who her husband of nearly two decades really is.
What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?
I always have an audiobook on my iPhone and a printed book in progress. I've just finished Lawrence Wright's fascinating book about Scientology, Going Clear, and Deborah Michel's Prosper in Love, which is a really delightful Trollope-esque novel, set in the LA art world. I was in Ireland last week and someone told me about a long out-of-print novelist named Mrs. Victor Rickard. I asked him to recommend one of her books and I've just ordered an old edition: The Light Above the Cross Roads (1917)
Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?
My fab four forever: Pride and Prejudice, Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, Chaim Potok's My Name Is Asher Lev and (wild card) Frederick Forsyth's The ODESSA File (still thrilling, still moving -- yes, you read that right.)
Important book you never read?
Proust. Is it really important? Sigh. OK, I'll read it.
Book that changed your life?
D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. An early grounding in Greek mythology is an incredibly powerful tool to have in life. Also, when I turned the last page in 1969, when I was 8 years old, I became an atheist. It answered questions I didn't know enough at the time to ask, and it answered them for life.
Book that made you want to become a writer? Favorite book(s) as a child?
I suppose Black Beauty comes as close as any. I read it again and again, and I always cried at the end.
What's your most memorable author moment?
On the set of Admission in May, 2012. I was watching a scene in which Tina Fey, Lily Tomlin, and Paul Rudd were all at a birthday party. Lily Tomlin introduces herself by her character's name -- Susannah Nathan -- and I suddenly had this memory of the morning I made up that name. I was sitting on my bed, in my pajamas, with my laptop. It was completely surreal.
What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?
Going back in time and changing things so that horrible events don't happen. I'd be amazed if anyone wanted anything else.
What are you obsessed with now?
Woody Allen. Don't get me started.
What's your most prized/treasured possession?
Apart from personal things related to my family? A small drawing of a cow by Sylvia Plath, which my husband gave me a couple of years ago. Plath is my favorite poet (apart from my husband, who is also a poet!), and having something she made by hand means the world to me.
What's the best piece of advice you ever got?
A magazine editor once told me that an interview I'd turned in was bland because I'd failed to ask the next question. She said: "You always have to ask the next question, and then the next question, and then the next..." She was right. Ironically, sometimes you get the most interesting responses when you let the silence become uncomfortable.
Well, no one precisely advised me of this, but when I was in my twenties there was real pressure to publish a first novel when you were young. There were so many novels by my contemporaries about fresh-out-of-college characters getting wasted in nightclubs, and they were massive bestsellers, while my own first and second novels were being rejected by everyone. But the truth is that I became a better writer as I got older, and I also had more to say. What I tell people now is that writing fiction isn't like being a ballet dancer or a fashion model, who have to be successful when they're young or not at all -- we have time to get better and write more interesting books. When I did start to have novels published in my thirties very few people read them, and if you'd told me that I'd be in my fifties before I had any kind of a readership I would have been full of despair. But now, I'm sort of happy it happened this way, and I appreciate every single reader because of how long it's taken for me to actually have readers.
Author crush - who's your current author crush?
Sheri Fink, author of Five Days at Memorial. She's so brave.
What book do you wish you'd written?
For reasons that will be obvious to every writer on the planet, I wish I'd written The Goldfinch!
What's favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?
There's always a book to finish reading...
What do you collect?
Having recently moved from an enormous house in New Jersey to a small Manhattan apartment, I'm no longer allowed to collect anything. Unfortunately.