Jean Hanff Korelitz, the author of ''Admission'' -- a college-admissions novel made into the 2013 movie starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd -- returns with a potential blockbuster about a Manhattan therapist who discovers her husband of 20 years is a sociopath

By Stephan Lee
Updated January 10, 2014 at 05:00 AM EST

Your main character, Grace, is a marriage counselor. Did you model her on anyone?
My mother is a tough-love therapist. Remember the therapist from An Unmarried Woman? She sits on the floor cushions and says to Jill Clayburgh, “What do you feel? How do you feel about that?” My mother wasn’t like that. She was like, “Are you kidding me? Come on!” I definitely set out to make Grace a tough nut. It’s a quality that she shares with all of my female characters. My reader reviews on Goodreads go,”I just didn’t like her,” about my characters. That makes me want to say, “Well, she wouldn’t like you, either, but that’s not the point.”

Did you always want this novel to be about marital secrets and the idea of never knowing the one you’re with?
Yeah. We look at somebody like Ruth Madoff and we ask ourselves, “How could she not have known?” You think these stories are stranger than fiction, but they happen all the time. The “stranger beside me” comes in all sorts of permutations.

We don’t hear about them that often.
Usually when they make the news it’s because there’s a weapon involved. [Laughs] But there are small deaths and small betrayals and abandonments and thefts. Sociopaths take what they want. It might not be your life, or your life savings, but it may be your sense of security, the sense that you can trust your impressions of people. There are all sorts of little thefts.

Everyone who’s been involved with a sociopath has that moment where they ”should have known” the truth. You really slam Grace for that. Did you mean to be so hard on her?
Yeah. The books that I’ve written often feature a strong woman who I then take apart down to the studs. I don’t know why I do this. I have this tendency to think other people have things together, and I want to take a peek under the hood. Are other people like that or is it just me?

We’re all like that.

Do you think your novel, like Gone Girl, is part of a fiction trend of not seeing the truth about those we’re closest to?
I think that many of us have this fascination with knowing who someone really is. It’s the idea that informs Pride and Prejudice. You make snap judgments about who people are and then bring your own creative energy and personal needs to fill in the gaps and make the person that you want that person to be. In fiction, it’s been a trend for as long as there’s been the novel.