Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger

This was a book unlike any I'd read before.  The Divorce Papers tells the story of a young associate at a law firm handling her first divorce case while also dealing with some of her own personal issues.  However, The gimmick is that it is entirely told through emails, inter-office memoranda, letters, statutes and cases.

Set in 1999 (so back when people used email, but inter-office memoranda and hand written letters were still common), The Divorce Papers follows Sophie Diehl, a young criminal lawyer at a small firm in Narraganset, a fictional state in New England.  Because of scheduling conflicts of her firms' more experienced divorce attorneys, Sophie is called upon to do the intake interview for Mia Meiklejohn Durkheim, the daughter of one of the firm's biggest clients whose marriage is falling apart.  Sophie desperately does not want to get involved with a divorce case, but she has a rapport with Mia, and Mia specifically requests that Sophie be the primary attorney on her case.  Sophie must deal with office drama, a sleazy, bully opposing counsel, and her relative inexperience to settle the separation while juggling boyfriends and issues lingering from her parents' divorce (seen through emails with her best friend).

I'm not sure if I enjoyed this book more or less because I'm an attorney.  On one hand, I loved that portions of the book were invented cases about relevant law and excerpts of Narraganset state statutes.  The negotiations were interesting and the effects of the divorce on the couple's 11 year old daughter were heart wrenching.  On the other hand, having worked in a small firm, a lot of the office drama didn't rang false, and the way the associate interacted with the partners was bizarre (like the one partner who ended his letters "Love, Joe").  Also, there wasn't a ton of drama or character development.  The stakes were pretty low because the couple has millions in investments and the wife, who the reader is supposed to root for, is an heiress.  Several times Sophie used interesting arguments to bolster Mia's side during negotiations, and while I thought they were interesting academically, it was hard not to think, "Who cares? You're both still going to be rich either way and this is making your daughter miserable. Stop squabbling over the extra few hundred grand."

Still, though there wasn't much drama, the procedural aspects were very well done and I enjoyed the novel.

Side note: I heard about this book after reading a Jezebel article about how the cover (the paperback version is above and the hardback version is just as PINK!) had gotten the chick lit treatment.  The article argued that it was a sign that the publisher was pigeonholing a serious book into the fluffy, women's section because it was written by a woman who, though she is a legal scholar and former Yale dean, hadn't written fiction before.  On one hand, I object to the idea that because something is marketed to women, it isn't serious or worthy of respect.  On the other, I understand that what they were saying is that the decision makers at the publisher (who, most likely, are old white men) consider "chick lit" to be less than, not that it actually is.  But in general, it's interesting to think about how we actually do judge books by their covers and how publisher's intend us to.


Christopher said...

I think I agree with Jezebel. That cover is pretty bad.

Brent Waggoner said...

I kind of like the cover but it definitely communicates an unserious book. It's the female book equivalent of a guy with machine gun and a couple scantily clad women. Of course, they'd never put something like that on, say, Philip Roth.