Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Book Review: The Love Wars

By Miriam Plotinsky

Heartbreak is no big deal as long as qualified professionals act as mediators between afflicted couples. Before I saw George Clooney play a divorce lawyer in the film Intolerable Cruelty, I always felt a little bit sorry for anyone who got paid (however handsomely) to help people break up. Now I’m pretty much convinced that it could be a great career path, though I’d probably feel that way about anything that George Clooney pretended to do, even if it involved waste management. George aside, L. Allison Heller’s The Love Wars exposes both the drawbacks and the perks of working in divorce law through the eyes of a young associate who is still navigating her path, Molly Grant.

Like many young firm lawyers, Molly has pretty much sold her soul (or at the very least, every last shred of spare time) to work in the corporate division of a large Manhattan law firm, Bacon Payne. Molly hates her job, but needs to stick with it for five years so that she can pay off student loans and be a financial help to her parents. When she gets the opportunity to transfer to the matrimonial department, Molly hopes that her job will get more survivable. Though she enjoys the work much more, she becomes emotionally invested with a potential client, Fern Walker, and winds up taking her case on the sly. Before long, Molly has started up her own mini-firm and is hiding her side business from her nightmare boss, Lillian. With the help of one of the firm’s partners, Henry, Molly keeps everything going with surprising ease, but then she develops feelings for Henry, Lillian becomes increasingly demanding, and it becomes hard to be in two places at once without being discovered.

The Love Wars is addictive to read, full of gentle suspense. On the one hand, we want Molly to win her case and be successful without being discovered by the evil corporate taskmasters for whom she works, but we also want her to escape a hectic work life that, deep down, she really hates. Molly is both cautious and gutsy at the same time, a contradiction of character that somehow works out with absolute conviction, and since she narrates the book in first person with a great deal of humor, it is easy to root for her. The fact that the book focuses on the competent work Molly does, rather than how she looks or what insecurities she harbors, is also quite refreshing. Molly is no hapless chick lit heroine, always making mistakes. She is a realistic human being with flaws, but she handles any missteps with resilience.

Molly’s ultimate challenge – living up to the high expectations of her working-class parents by being a hotshot lawyer even while hating her job – provides a constant theme that readers can easily relate to. Most adults, deep down, still long for the approval of their parents, and Molly is no exception. She is willing to subvert even her own happiness to make her parents proud and more financially secure. It is only through taking career risks and facing her fears that Molly can begin to figure out what she wants from her life, regardless of what people’s expectations might be for her.

Well-written and funny, Heller’s The Love Wars is a page-turner. Heller herself works in divorce law, so she is writing from what she knows, and it shows. This is Heller’s first novel, and with a story this strong, readers can start looking forward to seeing what she writes next.

Thanks to BookSparks PR for the book in exchange for an honest review. They have a copy to give away along with Alison's visit to CLC.

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