Thursday, May 16, 2013

Review: The Love Wars

Confession time: I love chick lit.

Why is this a confession? Well, when I dove into this mysterious, murky-bottomed pond known as The Publishing Industry and started splashing around, talking about the kind of books I most enjoy reading, I innocently thought "chick lit" was what they were called. The collective response from blogs, articles, agent bios, etc. was a solemn head-shake and the whispered words, "oh no, we don't call it that anymore, dear." Chick lit, I learned, was Dead. Stories about youngish, generally urban women with intriguing professional challenges and enticing love interests had become the Genre-That-Must-Not-Be-Named; if you were gauche enough to name it, an apparition would appear in the sky in the shape of a stiletto-heeled pump with a serpent's head popping out of the vamp.

So imagine my delight when I saw an essay by a new debut author, L. Alison Heller, in spirited defense of chick lit: its warm, relatable characters; its humor; its unapologetic attention to womens' relationships with their friends, their families, and their lovers. Alison included two of my all-time favorite novels among four of her own, so I knew I had to give her novel, The Love Wars, a whirl. And what a terrific read it is!

The main character, Molly Grant, is a matrimonial attorney for a rapacious corporate law firm. Her boss foists off an unwanted new client consultation on her, with instructions to dispatch the client, Fern, as quickly as possible: Fern's ex-husband, whom she is seeking to sue for custody of their children, is the CEO of a well-known corporation, and the last place Molly's firm wants to be is sitting across from him in a court room. However, once Molly actually meets Fern, dumping her is easier said than done--instead of an overprivileged witch like most of the wives she works for, Molly finds a burdened, desperate mother who would give anything to keep her ex-husband from continuing to turn their children against her. And after none of the other attorneys to whom Molly dutifully refers Fern are willing to return her phone calls, Molly makes the daring gamble to take on the case herself--she just has to keep her bosses from finding out.

It's a compelling plot, driven by Molly's compassion and moral outrage. And Molly herself is a deeply sympathetic heroine, struggling to live a life that makes her proud, in the face of the relentless grind to which the big-firm work culture subjects her. She's smart, and excellent at her job, which is a refreshing change from some of the ditzier heroines of chick lit lore. For that matter, the whole book is full of bright and dazzlingly accomplished women, even if some of them I didn't like very much--I didn't like them, but I respected them. And I enjoyed the fact that I respected them. But my favorite thing of all about Molly is that she's funny--as in, mischievous and witty, not ha-ha-I-tripped-over-this-Chihuahua-and-spilled-my-cocktail "funny." Humor is the thing that makes me sit up and take notice, whether in a book, or a blog, or even a new person, so I was delighted to find The Love Wars so full of it. There is a  love interest, too, which evolves organically throughout the story; ultimately, the ending of the book is satisfying because it feels earned on every level.

All in all, I loved this book, and I can't wait to read more of Alison's work!

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