Review – The Divorce Papers

Summary: Twenty-nine-year-old Sophie Diehl is happy toiling away as a criminal law associate at an old line New England firm where she very much appreciates that most of her clients are behind bars. Everyone at Traynor, Hand knows she abhors face-to-face contact, but one weekend, with all the big partners away, Sophie must handle the intake interview for the daughter of the firm’s most important client. After eighteen years of marriage, Mayflower descendant Mia Meiklejohn Durkheim has just been served divorce papers in a humiliating scene at the popular local restaurant, Golightly’s. She is locked and loaded to fight her eminent and ambitious husband, Dr. Daniel Durkheim, Chief of the Department of Pediatric Oncology, for custody of their ten-year-old daughter Jane—and she also burns to take him down a peg. Sophie warns Mia that she’s never handled a divorce case before, but Mia can’t be put off. As she so disarmingly puts it: It’s her first divorce, too.

Told through personal correspondence, office memos, emails, articles, and legal papers, this playful reinvention of the epistolary form races along with humor and heartache, exploring the complicated family dynamic that results when marriage fails. For Sophie, the whole affair sparks a hard look at her own relationships—not only with her parents, but with colleagues, friends, lovers, and most importantly, herself.

This book is not a book for everyone—it will have to tick many specific boxes for someone before they can derive full enjoyment from this book. Yet I must confess I love this book and I wish I can recommend it to everyone secure in the knowledge that they will have as much fun as I did when reading The Divorce Papers.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when assessing the probability of this book agreeing with your reading tastes:

  1. Do you enjoy epistolary novels?

This story is told through memos, letters, emails, case briefs, plenty of legal paperwork, and even court transcripts. This is where most of the charm lies for me; I adore the epistolary format and one of my all-time favourite books Trial By Journal has used this format to the finest. It is very interesting to see how a divorce case comes together with a lot of back and forth between the client, the lawyer, and the other partner complete with worksheets about their financial standing and other legal cases that will support one spouse’s argument over another.

There are plenty of random memos and emails for character musings, so expect plenty of rambling and grumbling from our protagonist, Sophie. Her feelings on divorce cases are patently obvious from the beginning, but she does roll up her sleeves and goes along with the case despite her specialty in criminal cases. She likes discussing anything else in her life that may or may not be relevant to the case at hand with her friends and her boss, which is highly unrealistic. It is impossible for someone to discuss the case so in-depth with their best friend via letters and emails as well as allowing their real life problem seep through during memos to their managing partners. But it is still great fun since the reader gets to see how the characters think and react to various scenarios that come up during the divorce process (amongst many other random life problems that are thrown along the way). It does limit the showing since almost nothing is shown and there is no real dialogue, unlike some epistolary formats where the person writing has such a great memory that it includes dialogue from previous conversations.

  1. Do you enjoy reading legal-related material?

Not necessarily the legal profession, since I can confirm that this is a very idealized and whimsical version of what reality is like. But one must really enjoy the law or at least have an appreciation for reading contracts, briefs, and transcripts written in formal legal wording. The author is intimately familiar with law, being a law school graduate and has served as residential college dean and associate provst at several institutes. (I basically reworded her credentials from her author bio on the dust jacket). Hence I trust that while it is not an accurate representation of the law, she has the spirit of the law embedded very accurately throughout the entire novel.

I am the type of person who is ecstatic to read Court transcripts and random legal briefs for interesting cases, so this book is basically a dream come true since there are many attorney work products, sections of a legal code, and even Court orders scattered throughout this book.

  1. Do you enjoy whimsical characters that all somehow land on their feet?

This is a very much fantasy-land book compared to the real world. It is about an upper-middle class couple in a divorce and their lawyers trying to wrangle the best deal for their respective clients. And while they all have their own struggles, most of their struggles are not that relatable—perhaps with the exception of Sophie, who has problems coping with her own parents’ divorce, figuring out her love life, and making an enemy of a female partner at her law firm. But let’s just say that this book deals with most of the problems by having all the main and most supporting characters act in completely whimsical and almost theatrical ways that one could only find in fairytales or sanitized TV shows made for escapism. Their charm will win at the end, because good people deserve happily ever afters. Only the stock villains are made out to be less than desirable individuals with no characteristics beyond the unredeemable ones.

Despite some of the flaws that I have pointed out in the three questions, if you have not gathered by now, I enjoy this book immensely. It is the perfect combination of escapism, legal detail and authenticity that makes me regret yet again that I have not chosen law as my profession and the desire that the whimsical characters exist and are my friends.

Some other flaws that one would have to consider is the plot is very linear and there is minimal character development. The book is solely about the divorce, and there are almost no twists and turns. The author does try to inject more subplots such as problems with colleagues and her own life problems, and while I really enjoy that because I enjoy Sophie as a charming slightly neurotic and clueless twenty-nine year old lawyer, not everyone will enjoy her brand of troubles. All the other major characters—Mia, David, Sophie’s friend Maggie—undergo no character development and are already developed as much as they are at the start of the book.

It is a very unique book that will only appeal to a very niche group of individuals, but I thoroughly enjoy it and I cannot have been happier finding this book lying in a bookstore for someone to snap it up.

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