cover image Family Law

Family Law

Gin Phillips. Viking, $22.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-984880-62-8

Phillips’s uneven dual narrative set in early 1980s Alabama (after The Hidden Summer) is stronger in its exploration of women’s resistance to the status quo than it is in its lackluster attempt at examining racism. Lucia Gilbert, a formidable divorce lawyer, grew up in Alabama with racist parents and specializes in helping women fight for their rights. Rachel Morris, the 13-year-old daughter of prospective client Margaret, befriends Lucia after they meet in Lucia’s office, though Margaret ultimately declines her services in favor of someone who’s less of a feminist firebrand. Rachel, though, begins regularly visiting her house, where she marvels at the differences between Lucia’s refined household and her own, as bookcases are filled with books rather than potpourri and “endless figurines.” After gunshots are fired at Lucia’s home, Lucia and the already jealous Margaret both insist Rachel stay away, though Lucia’s example of independence continues to influence Rachel. Meanwhile, Lucia and Rachel both chafe at the racist jokes that pour forth from family and friends—though much of this feels unfortunately gratuitous. Worse, while Lucia’s reflections on the unjust misfortunes of a former Black client’s 13-year-old daughter shed some light on her interest in looking out for Rachel, who is white, the absence of Black voices in the narrative makes the gesture at consciousness feel hollow. Readers ought to take a pass. Kimberly Witherspoon, InkWell Management. (May)