Sparkling and sophisticated, this sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking debut novel tells the story of a very messy, very high-profile divorce and the endearingly cynical young lawyer dragooned into handling it.
Twenty-nine-year-old Sophie Diehl is happy toiling away as a criminal law associate at an old-line New England firm, where she very much appreciates that most of her clients are trapped behind bars. Everyone at Traynor, Hand knows she abhors face-to-face contact, but one week, with all the big partners out of town, Sophie is stuck handling the intake interview for the daughter of the firm’s most important client.
After eighteen years of marriage, Mayflower descendant Mia Meiklejohn Durkheim has just been served divorce papers in a humiliating scene at the popular local restaurant, Golightly’s. Mia is now locked and loaded to fight her eminent and ambitious husband, Dr. Daniel Durkheim, Chief of the Department of Pediatric Oncology at Mather Medical School, for custody of their ten-year-old daughter Jane. Mia also burns to take him down a peg. Sophie warns Mia that she’s never handled a divorce case before, but Mia can’t be put off. The way she sees it, it’s her first divorce, too. For Sophie, the whole affair will spark a hard look at her own relationships—with her parents, colleagues, friends, lovers, and, most important, herself.
A rich, layered novel told entirely through personal correspondence, office memos, e-mails, articles, handwritten notes, and legal documents, The Divorce Papers offers a direct window into the lives of an entertaining cast of characters never shy about speaking their minds. Original and captivating, Susan Rieger’s brilliantly conceived and expertly crafted debut races along with wit, heartache, and exceptional comedic timing, as it explores the complicated family dynamic that results when marriage fails—as well as the ever-present risks and coveted rewards of that thing called love.
“Ingenious setup and voyeuristic pleasures...Rieger excavates the humor and humanity from a most bitter uncoupling.”
—Emily Giffin, New York Times Book Review
“Fresh and lively… Smart and wonderfully entertaining… The power and canniness of this bittersweet work of epistolary fiction pulls you along… [T]his portrait of a divorce makes for serious, yet charming, entertainment… A dramatic intertwining of the law and human feelings.”
—Alan Cheuse, NPR
“The Divorce Papers has more snap and freshness than a just-picked stalk of celery… The Divorce Papers is built around an undeniably clever conceit. But it’s the humor and charm with which Rieger have imbued her novel that make her debut such a memorable read.”
—Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor
“In her clever modern twist on the epistolary form, Rieger excavates the humor and humanity from a most bitter uncoupling.”
—Editor's Choice, New York Times Book Review
“Brims with brio and wit. It’s the appealingly oddball Sophie who gives this novel its soul… A-”
“This comedy of manners... unfolds through e-mails, legal briefs, handwritten notes, and interoffice memos... the texts offer a provocative glimpse of how intimately our documents reveal us.”
“Rieger writes with such facility and humor in so many voices… [A]n excellent yarn about the nature of love, insecurity and commitment.”
—Jim Spencer, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A witty first novel… The engaging tale…provid[es] all the voyeuristic pleasure of snooping through someone else’s inbox.” (Three out of four stars)
—Laurie Muchnick, People
“Whip-smart… The characters are hilarious and brilliant.”
—Jayna Maleri, Lucky
“A modern epistolary novel of love, lawyers and email, The Divorce Papers is sharp, clever, funny and unexpectedly tender.”
—Cathleen Schine, author of The Three Weissmanns of Westport
“Smart, sophisticated, and incredibly fun, The Divorce Papers brilliantly combines the pleasures of snooping with the delights of great storytelling. I raced through these charming pages and enjoyed every one.”
—Karen Thompson Walker, author of The Age of Miracles
“The Divorce Papers is terrific fun. I relished every last letter, memo, email, and legal brief in this sneakily clever, insidery peek into the world of privileged families and the lawyers who serve them.”
—Kevin Kwan, author of Crazy Rich Asians
“With a sharp take on the dissolution of a high-profile marriage, Rieger’s hilarious debut is sure to be a must-read for the summer—if you can wait that long.”
“Clever and funny... Lovers of the epistolary style will find much to appreciate. Rieger’s tone, textured structure, and lively voice make this debut a winner.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred)
“Rieger brilliantly blends the serious and the comic, offsetting the weighty topic of divorce with (sometimes dark) humor… The verdict: if you like your fiction smart and witty, The Divorce Papers is a winner.”
—Shelf Awareness (starred)
“A brutally comic chronicle of high-end divorce... Extremely clever.”
“Susan Rieger brings her real-life experience as a lawyer to the table in this debut romantic comedy that’s written, refreshingly, in the epistolary style.”
“A fun, riveting and rollicking read that will make you wonder what first-time author Susan Rieger has up her sleeve next.”
“Witty and engaging... The Divorce Papers is a sharp read and an impressive debut. [Rieger’s] prose—peppered with literary, historical and philosophical references—is whip smart.”
“Where Rieger excels is with her characters. Sophie and her crowd are witty, insightful, and interesting people... [A] refreshing and absorbing read.”
“[C]risp and irreverent and highly entertaining… The Divorce Papers is a must for summer reading. Diehl is a character you will like immediately and want to get to know better. She, her friends, family, and co-workers are deliciously interesting.”
About the Book
Book club discussion guide for Susan Rieger's DIVORCE PAPERS.
About the Guide
Witty and wonderful, sparkling and sophisticated, this debut romantic comedy brilliantly tells the story of one very messy, very high-profile divorce, and the endearingly cynical young lawyer dragooned into handling it.
Twenty-nine-year-old Sophie Diehl is happy toiling away as a criminal law associate at an old line New England firm where she very much appreciates that most of her clients are behind bars. Everyone at Traynor, Hand knows she abhors face-to-face contact, but one weekend, with all the big partners away, Sophie must handle the intake interview for the daughter of the firm’s most important client. After eighteen years of marriage, Mayflower descendant Mia Meiklejohn Durkheim has just been served divorce papers in a humiliating scene at the popular local restaurant, Golightly’s. She is locked and loaded to fight her eminent and ambitious husband, Dr. Daniel Durkheim, Chief of the Department of Pediatric Oncology, for custody of their ten-year-old daughter Jane—and she also burns to take him down a peg. Sophie warns Mia that she’s never handled a divorce case before, but Mia can’t be put off. As she so disarmingly puts it: It’s her first divorce, too.
Debut novelist Susan Rieger doesn’t leave a word out of place in this hilarious and expertly crafted debut that shines with the power and pleasure of storytelling. Told through personal correspondence, office memos, emails, articles, and legal papers, this playful reinvention of the epistolary form races along with humor and heartache, exploring the complicated family dynamic that results when marriage fails. For Sophie, the whole affair sparks a hard look at her own relationships—not only with her parents, but with colleagues, friends, lovers, and most importantly, herself. Much like Where’d You Go, Bernadette, The Divorce Papers will have you laughing aloud and thanking the literature gods for this incredible, fresh new voice in fiction.
About the Author
SUSAN RIEGER is a graduate of Columbia Law School. She has worked as a residential college dean at Yale and an associate provost at Columbia. She has taught law to undergraduates at both schools and written frequently about the law for newspapers and magazines. She lives in New York City with her husband.The Divorce Papers is her first novel.
1. Is Sophie a good lawyer? Why? Why not?
2. At the beginning of the novel, Sophie feels she’s “treading water.” Why does Sophie seem to be having so much trouble finding her way? How does this change as the novel progresses?
3. Both of Sophie’s parents are European. How has that influenced who she is?
4. Why does Maggie put up with Sophie? Would you?
5. Is Dr. Durkheim the book’s “villain”? Why do you think he wanted a divorce? Do you think he knew about Jacques? Did your opinion of him change over time?
6. Mia confesses she initially withheld some information from Sophie. She also has a flair for the dramatic and loves to tell a good story. Do you believe her version of events? In an epistolary novel, how do you decide who is a reliable narrator?
7. Are Mia and Daniel equally to blame for the failure of their marriage? Do you think their marriage could have been saved?
8. Mia loved living and working in New York City, but she moved to New Salem for Daniel and his job. What were the trade-offs at that time? Do they seem worthwhile in retrospect?
9. What do you think was going on at the firm with Fiona? Why was she so hostile toward Sophie at the beginning? Did you agree with Fiona that her reprimand was unfair? Sexist?
10. Will or Harry?
11. There are three father-daughter relationships, all difficult: Mia and Bruce Meiklejohn; Sophie and John Diehl; Jane and Daniel Durkheim. Do they change over time? If so, what makes the change happen? If not, what is the sticking point?
12. There are two mother-daughter relationships: Elisabeth and Sophie and Mia and Jane. In what ways are these stronger than the father-daughter relationships? Weaker?
13. What do you think of the decision to give custody to Bruce in the event Mia dies before Jane is eighteen? Was Mia right to insist on that? How do you think Daniel felt?
14. Is the separation agreement fair and reasonable? Who came out better, if anyone?
15. What’s next for Mia? For Sophie?