52 in 52: The Divorce Papers, by Susan Rieger

[This review is based on an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) digital edition published by the Crown Publishers imprint of the Crown Publishing Group in 2014, and provided by NetGalley.]

Here’s the deal:

When I came across Susan Rieger’s The Divorce Papers on Entertainment Weekly’s 14 Rising Stars to Watch in 2014 list, I was fascinated. EW writer Lanford Beard described it as “a sharp take on the dissolution of a high-profile marriage”, which sounded like fun to me. We are, after all, a culture that thrives on the rise and fall of celebrities, right? I mean, who isn’t aware of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries’ laughable 72-day union? Their separation and divorce proceedings were heavily covered by the media; many divorces, it seems, are contentious, dirty, and embarrassing for all involved parties, and that’s not including custody issues (where they exist). The title alone promises lots of juicy details, right? Well, hold on a second. After I downloaded The Divorce Papers, I discovered that it was an epistolary novel, which means it’s told entirely through written communications (letters, e-mails, and the like). Several years ago, I read an epistolary novel that was told entirely through e-mails, and I hated it. HATED it.

Color me worried.

I gave it a shot anyway and found myself being introduced to criminal defense attorney Sophie Diehl and her boss, David Greaves, of the law firm Traynor Hand Wyzanski. Because the firm’s divorce lawyers are all working other cases or on vacation, David asks Sophie to do an intake (which is exactly as it sounds: simply an intake of information) from Maria “Mia” Meiklejohn Durkheim, the wealthy wife of Narragansett pediatric oncologist, Dr. Daniel Durkheim. Dr. Durkheim had Mia served with divorce papers in the middle of a crowded restaurant and Mia, though sad that her marriage has apparently reached its end, is furious with her husband and has chosen to fight for a fair resolution. After the intake, Mia asks Sophie to take her case and serve as her divorce lawyer; from there, we learn as we go (just as Sophie does) about how to navigate a divorce. During the course of the novel, we’re introduced to Mia’s father, Bruce; Jane, her 11-year-old daughter with Daniel; Daniel’s first wife, Helen, and their son, 22-year-old Tom; and Dr. Stephanie Roth, Daniel’s alleged mistress, among others. All of them join us for the ride as we move from the serving of papers through to the divorce being finalized.

My thoughts:
As someone who loves stories rich in detail and conversation, I didn’t think I’d like The Divorce Papers at all. I mean, how much conversation can you recall in a legal brief, right? I was surprised at all of the personal notes written between characters and the amount of discourse taking place! It was very well done and, while I didn’t get as much detail about the characters and their homes, backgrounds, and daily routines as I might have liked, the book was much more than a constant stream of exposition. That being said, I wish we could have heard more from Tom; Susan Rieger provided a deeper perspective on Jane’s feelings toward the divorce via a written psychiatric evaluation, but we got very little from Tom on the matter. Daniel was repeatedly quoted as saying “[Mia] isn’t his mother, why does it matter?” What Daniel failed to realize is that divorce affects everyone involved with either member of the separating couple. It would have been nice to get Tom’s thoughts on the matter, especially considering that he and Mia were apparently close. Aside from that, the story itself was wonderfully compelling!

The one big issue I had with the book was the sheer amount of legalese contained within its pages. I was given the immediate impression that the novel was written “By A Lawyer, For Lawyers.” It was a bit alienating, and I could practically feel my head spinning as I tried to discern what certain terms meant…and don’t get me started on all the math involved with the division of assets and properties. I’ve never been good at or comfortable with math, and seeing so much of it within the pages of a novel was disconcerting, to say the least.

So would I recommend this book?
Susan Rieger is a lawyer — even if I hadn’t read about her before reading The Divorce Papers, I would have been able to deduce that information from her clear understanding and frequent reference to marital law. While I understood their worth in the narrative, I found it exhausting trying to read and comprehend some of the legalese. You can try to muddle through all of that or do what I was forced to do, and simply skim over it. You will still be able to understand the flow of the story without all the legal language, I promise! It’s a good story and worth a shot. Let me know what you think in the comments!

The Divorce Papers will be available for purchase on March 18, 2014.

Susan Rieger unfortunately does not have any contact information at this time. If and when this changes, this section will be updated!