When an ambitious female lawyer becomes the victim of harassment, she must decide what's more important: her family's safety or the rights she's fighting for? Set in Alabama in the early '80s, Family Law follows a young lawyer, Lucia, who is making a name for herself at a time when a woman in a courtroom is still a rarity. She's been the recipient of threats and vandalism for her work extracting women from painful and sometimes dangerous marriages, but her own happy marriage has always felt sheltered from the work she does. When her mother's pending divorce brings teenaged Rachel into Lucia's orbit, Rachel finds herself smitten--not just with Lucia, but with the change Lucia represents. Rachel is out-spoken and curious, and she chafes at the rules her mother lays down as the bounds of acceptable feminine behavior. In Lucia, Rachel sees the potential for a new path into womanhood. But their unconventional friendship takes them both to a crossroads. When a moment of violence--a threat made good--puts Rachel in danger, Lucia has to decide how much her work means to her and what she's willing to sacrifice to keep moving forward.
[Phillips] is flexing her writing muscles once again as Family Law is a completely different type of novel but still possesses her trademark of complex female relationships in dangerous circumstances ... Readers become keenly aware of how important it was for women to bond with one another and stay connected at a time when they were fighting for equal rights.
Phillips (Fierce Kingdom, 2017) nails dialogue and characters’ emotions even as the loose plot meanders. The gentle foreboding lends an air of suspense, and the era’s details (Tab, anyone?), misogyny (which Phillips explores well), and racism (which she could have explored further) fill out the setting. Fans of character-driven women’s fiction should be on the lookout.
Rachel’s first-person narrative alternates with third-person chapters written from Lucia’s perspective, their experiences combining to paint a nuanced portrait of the era and its volatility. The pace is languorous and the plot feels like a bit of an afterthought, but Phillips’ keenly drawn characters and their realistically flawed relationships will hold patient readers rapt until the book’s uplifting close. An incisive, warmhearted exploration of women’s roles in shaping society, the future, and each other.