Marriage Story vs. The Language of Divorce
Even before the Academy Award season, I had been hearing a ton about Marriage Story. This is probably because I am a former divorce attorney and my debut novel, The Language of Divorce, is about a divorcing couple. Truthfully, I did not want to watch the movie. I have been a part of painful divorce processes from an attorney perspective and did not want to revisit that emotional minefield, even on a fictional basis. But this past weekend, amidst a ton of bad weather, I finally tuned in.
I thought Marriage Story did a tremendous job of depicting what a litigious divorce with aggressive attorneys can look like. The acting was phenomenal. Even more minor roles like the child advocate were right on, in my opinion. But, at the end of the day, I did not find the movie entertaining as much as sad. That may have been the intent of the director, to create a movie which is more poignant and educational than enjoyable.
I set out to do the exact opposite with my book.
As a former divorce lawyer, I wanted to write a novel which demonstrated how the divorce process can get out of hand, especially when aggressive attorneys are involved. That said, it was important to me that the overall tenor of the book be hopeful rather than depressing. But how do you create an uplifting novel about divorce? With hope, humor, and humanization.
Throughout The Language of Divorce, there is hope that the main characters, Will and Hannah Abbott, will find their way back to each other. The novel includes several flashbacks and recollections about the happier times in their marriage, both of which serve to raise the emotional stakes for the reader: this is not a couple anyone wants to see get divorced!
In addition to hope, I purposely added humor (non-divorce related) throughout the novel. There are scenes involving pigs dressed as cowboys, guide tortoises (a fan favorite), and the owner of an eccentric dress store. Humor balanced out the difficult parts of the narrative to give the book a broader emotional range.
Finally, it was important to me that the divorce attorneys in the novel be given their own voice, that they be understood as humans and not just the living representation of a broken legal process. David Dewey, the tough-talking litigator, has good reason for the advice he gives and is, surprisingly, soft-hearted in his personal life. Rachel Goldstein is a new attorney trying to get accustomed to her role while dealing with a romantic disaster of her own.
One of my proudest moments as an author was receiving a recommended Kirkus Review wherein The Language of Divorce was called a “nuanced and empathetic novel" that “balances the difficult and the heartwarming.” In my opinion, the heartwarming part is missing from Marriage Story. It’s all about the difficult.
For those who have seen Marriage Story, I encourage you to read The Language of Divorce. I’d love to hear your thoughts as to the two stories. For those who steer clear of purely heart-wrenching narratives, I assure you, The Language of Divorce is, ultimately, a story of hope, happiness, and love.