Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review: The Love Wars by L. Alison Heller

Marriage is supposed to be "until death do us part" but in reality, these days, it is often a span of time much shorter than forever. And while the ending of any marriage can get ugly and contentious, when there's a lot at stake, money, children, etc., it can be just as hostile and toxic as it's possible to be. And yet there are divorce lawyers who seem to thrive in this poisonous atmosphere. Molly Grant, the main character in L. Alison Heller's new novel The Love Wars, may not love the situations inherent in her job but she finds the work in the matrimonial group more interesting than the corporate law she had been practicing at one of the city's top firms and she's about to make a big difference, one that she never anticipated nor sought out and one that could jeopardize everything.

When Molly finished law school and landed the job at Bacon Payne, she had visions of paying her parents back for the sacrifices and investment they made in her education. The fact that the firm gives associates who endure the tyrannical bosses, the abuse, the monotony, and endless grueling hours for a full five years a no strings attached bonus equivalent to a year's salary plays a large part in her fantasies and provides her with a concrete reason to go to work every day because it sure wasn't the work driving her to be at the office 24/7. She had high hopes for more appealing cases and fewer hours when she applied for the unheard of transfer from corporate to matrimonial. But the move hasn't necessarily made her any happier. Now she's down in the nitty gritty of people at their worst, fighting over post-it notes that are communal property bought during the marriage and other equally unbelievable (or perhaps all too believable for anyone who has weathered a contentious divorce) situations. Her colleagues are reasonably friendly, aside from Henry, the lone male associate in the department, and who is on the path to partner. Her boss, Lillian, comes across as a chum but only so long as the associates conform to her every wish, social or work-related. So once again Molly is just counting time until she hits her five year anniversary and the big bonus, which isn't to say that she's not conscientious and good at her job, because she is.

When Lillian sends Fern Walker, the ex-wife of a very wealthy, very powerful media mogul, to Molly she expects Molly to feed Fern a few platitudes, give her referrals to non-Bacon Payne lawyers, and get rid of her. But there's something about Fern and her desire to regain custody of the children whom her husband is systematically alienating from her, blocking her visitation and poisoning their young minds against her, that strikes a cord with Molly. So while she initially does as Lillian expects, when Fern tells her that no other lawyer will take her case either, Molly, before she completely understands what she's doing and driven by her memory of once before not intervening, agrees to represent Fern behind Lillian and Bacon Payne's backs. She sets up her own small company and devotes any spare time she has to working on Fern's case, knowing that she's risking everything personally and professionally to do what she knows is right.

Molly is a complex, strong, and likable character. Her motivations are well explored and explained and yet her decisions and feelings about Bacon Payne, while right for her, never condemn the other characters for working there or for not feeling towards the firm the same things that she feels. Her desire to do the right thing for Fern as the case progresses and her very real fear that she will be caught by Lillian or one of her other colleagues provides a nice tension to the plot. Her realization of what the case means for her personally and the greater import of what its outcome means for Fern is subtle and well done. There is a sweet and realistic romance here but the real focus is on Molly's self-realization and her eventual empowerment to live the life she wants without compromise. The outcome is never in any doubt but getting to the end is a delight nevertheless. This is grown up chick lit for people who want to read about others like themselves who are getting comfortable in their own skin beyond just in a romantic relationship.

For more about L. Alison Heller and the book, check out her webpage, find her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. For others' opinions on the book, check it out on Amazon.

Thanks to the publisher and BookSparks PR for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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