"Marriage is a counter-cultural act in a throwaway society."
—Dr. William H. Doherty, noted marriage scholar and therapist
Researchers estimate that 40-50% of all first marriages end in divorce. Even more disheartening is that 60% of second marriages end in divorce. To find the lightheartedness in this VERY serious situation is not an easy task. Susan Rieger's debut novel "The Divorce Papers" tries hard to accomplish this very feat.
This epistolary novel relies only on court documents, office memos, email correspondences and letters to tell the story of a marriage and family crumbling. The story revolves around 29 year old, New England, criminal lawyer, Sophie Diehl who by doing a favor for her boss gets inadvertently roped into taking on her first divorce case. Because Mia Meiklejohn Durkheim, the daughter of a VIP client of Sophie's firm, likes Sophie she decides very forcefully that although Sophie has no training in divorce law, that she is indeed the right lawyer for the job. Sophie protests wildly to no avail. If Mia wants Sophie, Sophie she will get.
Because Sophie has no divorce experience, Rieger is able to educate the reader about divorce law and documents as the story (and the myriad paper trail) evolves. Stories are told within the stories about Sophie's own troubled relationships with her parents who divorced when she was young. She also divulges her crush on her boss, a tricky relationship with a handsome director, and an eventual probable romance with another lawyer. We meet Sophie's best friend, Maggie, who is an actress and confidant, always helping Sophie to see the best in her parents and herself as Maggie tries to divert her from making horrible professional and personal mistakes.
The main story of the Mia's divorce from her husband, Dr. Daniel Durkheim and their custody battle of their 10 year old daughter, Jane takes precedence over the backdrop story lines and the drama Sophie creates in her own life. I don't know about you, but divorce isn't funny to me, and the story of the overprivileged Mia and Daniel and their spoiled tantrums about trust funds, inheritance, $10,000 annual gifts from Mia's wealthy father, and a $3,000,000 vineyard property didn't make me giggle once. Seeing the heartbreak and devastation that the feuding parents inflicted on their daughter made me sick to my stomach. In divorce, the fight becomes more about damaging the other person, making them hurt either in their heart or in their financial future and neither of those things is very appealing or funny.
As I read this book and waded through the documents that laid out financial assets and tried to divvy up a life in dollars and cents, I kept telling my husband, "We are never getting divorced. EVER." The divorce procedure is common if by estimates almost half of all marriages end with a split, but the sadness of the dissolution of what was once a bond made me more angry at the two adults who acted like children. I didn't rally for Mia. I didn't care about Dr. Durkheim's future with the dermatologist. I mostly just felt disgusted that they took so long to figure out that neither of them would be in any kind of financial necessity from the divorce. Mia continually says that money is no object and that she is willing to pay double to have a criminal lawyer with no divorce experience represent her.
Mostly divorce is sad. I've seen my friends go through the battles. I've watched them worry about money, worry about splitting up custody of children they love, worry about their prospects for happiness in the future. I can't see many of the 50% of people who have gone through the battle want to read court documents again or giggle about spouses blowing up at each other in front of their child.
I did read this book quickly and I was mildly entertained even if the epistolary style seems to be the M.O. of YA novelists mores than adult fiction writers. Mostly, I was reminded of the work that goes into marriage to keep love alive. It isn't easy to stay in love, but this book was more of a warning to me to never end a once solid marriage in an endless paper stack of court documents, office memos and emails.