Title: The Divorce Papers
Author: Susan Rieger
Source: from publisher for review
Review Summary: I loved this modernization of the epistolary form, especially the beautiful formatting of letters from different sources and the unique voice each character had, although the ending felt a bit unemotional.
Sophie Diel is a criminal lawyer who “very much appreciates that most of her clients are behind bars”. Despite her professed lack of people skills, when she’s asked to fill in for a colleague at an initial interview with Mia Meiklejohn Durkheim they hit it off right away. Mia is heartbroken and angry at her husband’s request for a divorce. She likes Sophie and believes that her direct approach may be just what’s needed to win custody of her daughter and perhaps take her smug husband down a peg or two. The story of Sophie’s experience with the divorce and the ways it makes her reconsider her own relationships is told in epistolary style. This includes “personal correspondence, office memos, emails, articles, and legal papers.” (quotes from goodreads description)
Although I was a bit uncertain about picking up a book that included “legal papers”, I enjoy the epistolary style and couldn’t say no to this interesting new way of writing about relationships. I’ll tell you right now – picking this up was the right choice! The only thing I didn’t like about the format was that, as with Burial Rites, the documents chosen to end the story robbed the climax of some of its emotional impact. Everything else about the format was perfect. I loved that the different documents were all formatted appropriately. It gave the book a unique feel and added texture to the story. The documents were well organized and the plot flowed without interruption from one source to another. Every character had a distinct and believable writing style. The author did not use our often poor modern communication as an excuse to write poorly. The people writing the letters in the book are well-educated, many of them raised on letter writing, often writing professionally or passionately to friend. Their letters sounded natural and suited their personalities perfectly. They were funny and intelligent and convey all the right emotions.
Even the legal documents were more accessible than I expected. The author made a brilliant choice when she picked a lawyer new to divorce law as her main character. This meant there was some explanation of the law in her communication with her mentor. It also meant that relevant bits of the laws included were highlighted. Personally, I still couldn’t bring myself to skip the unhighlighted bits, but I did find the highlights helpful. In another brilliant decision, the story doesn’t revolve entirely around the divorce case. We also learn about Sophie’s life and her emotional response to the divorce case. Her growth as a person gave some much needed optimism, given that even a successful negotiation for divorce isn’t an especially happy resolution. I also liked that some events outside of Mia’s interaction with her husband impacted the divorce case. These events put the story in context, giving the story substance by fleshing out the world in which it’s taking place.
This story was a beautiful intersection of chick-lit and literary fiction. It deals with the themes of relationships, careers, and dating which often draw me to chick-lit about 20-something women. However, it is also told in a very unique format which to me exemplifies what the modern epistolary novel should be. This shows the cutting edge thinking I expect from literary fiction. It was also a very thoughtful book and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in books that examine relationships in interesting ways. I’d actually recommend it to others who share my love of non-fiction that includes an insider perspective on an interesting career as well, because I found the legal aspect of this story fascinating. A great book which could appeal to readers with a wide variety of interests.