We’re introducing a new monthly feature! Our friend Ellen has written for us a few times in the past, and suggested that we should start a feature about the Red-Hot Reads that appear in Cosmopolitan. For those of you unaware, Cosmo includes an excerpt from a new romantic and/or erotic novel in each issue. I actually did a live reading of one once for a room full of forty-odd people in college as part of a scavenger-hunt-kinda-thing (it went okay), so based on that one experience, yes, this definitely seems like something Bad Books, Good Times needs. Ellen’s gonna write ’em, and Bad Books, Good Times regulars are going to insert smartass comments. You know the drill.
Give Ellen a warm welcome, everybody! We hope you like the new feature!
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Today’s Red-Hot Read comes from Jean Hanff Korelitz’s book You Should Have Known. Oh, and, SPOILER ALERT: There’s no sex. (Once I’m done crying into my tea about the false advertising, I’ll write the rest of this post).
Cosmo begins this story by telling us that we’re going to be reading about Grace Sachs, a marriage therapist whose doctor husband is being investigated for the murder of his patient’s wife who is also Grace’s son’s schoolmate’s mother (what??). It’s set in the Upper East Side, where I live, which means I’m obviously going to relate to it—I mean, I’m also a mother of one married to a murderer doctor, but you can never have too many relatable details in your story. [Matthew says: Whereas I live in Bed Stuy in Brooklyn and thus cannot relate to this tale of New York City murder at all.]
The story really begins with Grace looking through her husband’s jackets.
Grace went through the hall closet, shoving her hands deep into each of Jonathan’s coat pockets and finding only crumpled tissues and a gum wrapper. Every coat had been purchased by her, and every one of them she recognized. Every boot and glove and umbrella could be vouched for and the scarves on the overhead shelf had all been bought by her, except for one Jonathan had brought home once. A couple of years before.
I’m looking past the fact that “A couple of years before” is not a sentence and I’m going to give you guys some context here. Some context that I’m mostly pulling out of my ass, since all the context I got was a single paragraph with a lot of characters I’m never going to meet. So Grace’s doctor husband, who is being investigated for murder, is also mysteriously missing and has apparently just been fired from being a doctor. And in an effort to prove his innocence, Grace is looking through his jackets. Got it? Back to the scarf.
It was green wool…It had a kind of coarse, authentic texture. She might have bought it herself, in a shop, for her husband. But she hadn’t.
Wow Grace, way to lead us on there. I might have just vomited a little on my copy of Cosmo in rebellion for how confusing and terrible this story is. But I didn’t.
She dropped it on the hallway floor and went into the master bedroom. She stood for a long moment, trying to decide how to begin.
Can we take a second here? As I mentioned, Grace is rummaging through the closet with her husband’s scarves and jackets, trying to find a clue that will prove his innocence or guilt. She finds a scarf she doesn’t recognize (I don’t know if you knew this, but murderers will usually buy their own scarves) and then she drops it on the floor to head into a different room, where she wonders “how to begin.” Grace, you already began! You looked through the closet! And you found a scarf! Grace, WHY IS THE SCARF ON THE FLOOR?
Grace rummages through her husband’s dry cleaning, where she finds a shirt that doesn’t belong because it’s red and orange.
If the dry cleaner had made a delivery mistake, it would have to–inconveniently–go back…The shirt was a garish hot-rust-and-orange pattern that looked like something from a mass-produced Navajo blanket but with solid black lapels: completely hideous.
I guess Native American jokes don’t go out of style in bad writing!
Grace plucked it off the rod and glared at it, then she unbuttoned it and spread it out. What was she looking for? Lipstick on the collar?
Okay wait. Is she looking through his things for signs that he murdered someone, or for signs that he had an affair?
The shirt couldn’t be vouched for, so she threw it on the floor.
I’m not even going to comment on that. [Matthew says: Well, obviously she is collecting her evidence by haphazardly throwing it on the floor somewhere.]
The next paragraph is a rambling set of thoughts that, to be honest, I didn’t understand at all because I was watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine while reading it. Grace talks about feeling like an archaeologist, which could probably be poetic in any other story, but all I can think about is how she probably could find the bones of a T-Rex under all of the crap she’s been throwing on the floor.
A moment later, in the breast pocket of a heavy jacket he hardly ever wore, she found a condom.
I know you were all thinking what I was thinking when I read that sentence: MURDERERS ALWAYS LEAVE CONDOMS BEHIND.
A condom did not signify the world she occupied. A condom—even back at the beginning, back when they were students, back when they knew it wasn’t all right for them to have a baby yet, they had not used condoms. She had been on birth-control pills…
I know Matthew and Ariel have talked about this, but just give me one second to yell at Grace here: Just because he’s studying to be a doctor and you’re on the pill does not mean that one of you doesn’t have the clap. Thanks. That was freeing. [Matthew says: I love how weighty that “A condom did not signify the world she occupied” line is. I bet Korelitz was really proud of it. It’s like the guy from Fiddler on the Roof shouting “TRADITION” at the sky as life as he knows it falls apart, except rewritten for a story about two people who don’t practice safe sex. Drama!]
The condom wrapper was red. It had not been torn open.
No mention on whether or not it’s been cut open, though. [Matthew says: At least we know what color it is. I was having trouble picturing this condom wrapper before I knew what color it was. Also, it just occurred to me that all of my condoms are in red wrappers. I CAN OFFICIALLY RELATE TO THIS STORY NOW. Good thing she specified!]
It was incomprehensible. It was just, completely, incomprehensible.
So are all of those commas.
She drops it on the floor. Obviously. “What do I know? And what do I not know?” thinks Grace, in italics. I agree, Grace! It’s fairly unclear how a condom, an unfamiliar scarf, and an unfamiliar shirt all add up to murder. Especially when they’re all on the floor.
This story ends with Grace standing—I think—with “the now familiar sensation” pouring over her. She describes it as feeling “like screaming acid.” What sensation? What is ‘screaming’ acid? [Matthew says: That sounds like a very serious health problem and she should go to a hospital now.] Why does a condom mean murder? Why do you love the floor so much? Why do you hate Navajo blankets? Where is your son? Why didn’t you talk more about the Upper East Side, which I can relate to? Why didn’t you talk more about sex, which I can also relate to? These are just a few questions that this disappointing, sexless story has left me with.
HAVE SAFE SEX, KIDS.