An epistolary tale told through emails, interoffice memos, legal documents and handwritten notes, The Divorce Papers is a witty and engaging first novel from author Susan Rieger. As is obvious from the title, the book features a divorce at its center. However, Rieger makes it about much more as she covers topics ranging from childhood trauma and fresh romances to office politics and literary theory.
Sophie Diehl is a criminal law associate living in New England and apprehensively approaching her 30th birthday. She is horrified when her boss hands her a divorce case on a week when the firm’s experienced divorce lawyers are away; she prefers the minimal-contact work she specializes in and, as a child of divorce herself, wants nothing to do with handling one. But when her efforts to extricate herself from the case fail, she finds herself immersed in the extremely bitter marriage dissolution of Mia Meiklejohn (her client) and her wealthy oncologist husband, Dr. Daniel Durkheim. The case involves not only infidelity and dramatic clashes, but also a troubled 10-year-old daughter.
While this plot might sound like an overwrought soap opera with a chick-lit slant, the execution is funny and intelligent. Rieger herself went to Columbia Law School and has worked as an attorney and university administrator, and her prose—peppered with literary, historical and philosophical references—is whip smart. And although there is no traditional narration, the reader becomes well acquainted with Sophie and her inner world, particularly through emails sent to her best friend Maggie, her new boyfriend, her parents and her charmingly erudite boss, David Greaves.
The narrative flow does stumble at times, particularly when several pages of full legal documents are presented; while Rieger obviously has a great enthusiasm for the intricacies of the law, some readers might find these sections tough to slog through. But overall, The Divorce Papers is a sharp read and an impressive debut.