From its title, Susan Rieger’s The Divorce Papers sounded like a quirky Sophie Kinsella-type novel, light and funny. It is not. Neither is it a dry angst-ridden melodrama. So what is it? An epistolary – a story set in letters revealing a progression of developments through its characters. I started the book late at night, expecting to preview whether or not I wanted to actually read it – two hours later, I was half way through.
Rieger’s, a graduate of Mount Holyoke and a former law professor at Columbia and Yale, uses her background to offer a lively explanation of how lawyers interact with their clients and with each other, while inserting personal details rounding out the characters background. Not limited to letters, the story included emails, court documents, and legalese. If you are a fan of the popular television series, “The Good Wife,” you will appreciate the story behind the story that affects the case.
Sophie Diehl, a young attorney specializing in defending criminal cases at a prestigious New England law firm, reluctantly agrees to conduct the initial interview for a divorce case, since the firm’s lead attorney is on vacation. The client is the daughter of one of the firm’s most profitable clients, and he cannot and should not be kept waiting. Sophie immediately establishes a rapport with forty-two year old Mia Meikeljohn Durkeim, the wife of a prominent medical doctor who is having an affair, and remains the lead attorney – despite all her efforts to transfer the case to Fiona, the firm’s experienced divorce lawyer.
As the case progresses through shock, acrimony, greed, and a number of other horrors in the settlement of dissolution, the information load can get overwhelming. At one point, although it has been a few years, I felt the anguish of office politics and the discomfort of emails flying back and forth to resolve issues. When Rieger included the simulated versions of client billing, references to case law, and protracted details on relevant deliberations that provided precedence, I admit I skipped through to get back to the story. Sophie’s personal life – unsuitable boyfriends, a French mother who writes mystery books, an English father who holds a prestigious chair at a university, a friend who acts in the Williamstown theater – counter her daily business interactions with colleagues and clients. Happily, all ends well – both the divorce case in its resolution and Sophie’s life and career.
Alan Cheuse’s review for NPR influenced my reading of this book, and his review – All Sides of a Divorce, Told in Fresh Lively ‘Papers’ – has more details, if you need them before you decide to read this entertaining book that will convince you to avoid divorce at any cost – or maybe never go through it again.