The format of The Divorce Papers takes some adjustment time. Some of the documents are only a few lines long, while the others take multiple pages. The narrative waffles between dry legalese to witty flirtation to workplace politics. Each format uses a distinctive tone, and switching between them all can be a slightly dizzying experience. It also disrupts one’s reading pace as the legal briefs require more attention than the emails, for obvious reasons. None of these issues is a reason to skip this delightful book, however. Once one adapts to this unusual narrative method, the story flows, Sophie charms, and Mia kicks some major butt.
Sophie is a bit of a conundrum. She has a glibness about her that can be somewhat off-putting. She does not have the gravitas that befits a criminal lawyer, let alone a divorce lawyer, making jokes that one could easily construe as tasteless or at the very least ill-timed. Her emails read like journal entries or stream-of-consciousness emotion dumps to her best friend rather than the correspondingly thoughtful conversations from said friend. She’s hyper and high-maintenance. She acts more like a lawyer fresh out of law school rather than someone with multiple cases and several years under her belt. For all that, she is infectious and charming, self-deprecating when she needs to be and equally boastful when the timing is right. She is a force of nature on the page, and it takes no great stretch of the imagination to imagine her energy and high spirits in person. The image one gets of Sophie’s personality is as complete a picture as one could possibly get without meeting her in real life and created entirely through letters and notes. It is a more than impressive writing feat.
For a novel told solely through legal briefs, email, notes, depositions, and memorandum, The Divorce Papers is effective at developing its characters and creating empathy for them. The stultifying legal paperwork offsets the somewhat free-associating emails and memorandum Sophie tends to write. Balancing the two ends of the spectrum are Mia’s obvious pain, confusion, and anger. Mia bridges the gap between the cold calculations of the negotiations and Sophie’s flippancy to create poignancy and remind readers that divorce is messy and ugly and harms all parties involved. The result is a humorous and heartbreaking look at divorce from multiple angles with greater insight into the reasons why divorce proceedings turn so nasty and the impact they have on the families as well as the lawyers involved.