And we’re back! More intrigue with the UN and its lawsuit and the hard-working Christian families caught up in its vile web. Lawyer Cooper is about to settle in for an evening of research when he gets a call from Rick, who says he has found the second family involved in the lawsuit. Cool! First though, Farris takes a moment to tell us more about Cooper:
“All work” described most of his evenings ever since he had left Capitol Hill. There had been long hours there, as well. But on the Hill there were always social opportunities mixed with the work, fir invitations to receptions and dinners were routine for any well-connected Hill staffer. Cooper had seemed to get more than his fair share. Young single women familiar with the Hill usually had a hand in finalizing the guest list, and Cooper was a popular target. They couldn’t understand why Cooper was not married or at least “taken.” They kept him on the “A” list in a collective effort to solve his bachelorhood problems.
A few of these invitations followed him to Loudoun County but not for long. His good looks were no longer enough for the Hill crowd; access to power was essential as well, and he was no longer well connected.
Why isn’t Cooper married? I didn’t understand this about Peter Barron, in Farris’ former novel, either.
If this were a novel written by any other author, having an unmarried thirty-something character would make perfect sense. But this is a novel written by Farris, who himself married at age twenty, and Cooper, like Peter, is a born again Christian who attends a Bible-believing church and adheres to traditional beliefs about gender norms. Cooper has surely met no small number of eligible Christian young women there. Is he too busy to think of marriage?
The answer may be simpler, of course—in each novel, Farris weaves a romance into what is otherwise a courtroom drama. It’s difficult to weave in a romance without an unmarried character, and Farris’ lawyer characters, presumably, need to be in their early thirties to have the courtroom and legal experience he wants them to have.
So, we get dashing, sought-after bachelors.
Anyway, Rick tells Cooper that they’ve found the other family—it’s Doug and Jeanne Garvis, who attend the same church they do. “Their daughter, Emily, is in Layton’s Sunday school class,” which is how they found out—the Garvises called Laura Frasier, the Sunday school teacher, as soon as they were served their papers, and Laura then called around to all the other families. Rick asks Cooper to come to dinner that evening, and tells him the Garvises and Laura will be there.
And then we get this exchange:
“This whole thing is really hard for Deanna. She is so used to trying to solve whatever problems she faces. And until this dinner idea came up, she was more upset than I can ever remember. But since we hatched this plan for the evening, she’s been bustling around the kitchen as if her efforts to make a really good meal will make this whole case disappear.”
“Wow,” Cooper replied softly. “I have a lot to learn about clients—and women.”
“Especially women,” Rick replied with a soft laugh. “See you soon.”
That’s not … that’s not a woman thing? The impulse to do something when there is a problem is a human thing, and the ability to direct that impulse into even small things indirectly related to the larger problem is surely human as well.
But again, this is Farris.
We do get some of the same travel dialogue as we saw in Farris’ previous novel, for those interested:
Cooper drove his car slowly over the rise at Clark’s Gap, and then a half-mile later, Route 7 rose and fell a hundred feet or so. As he descended, there was a gorgeous vista ahead of a ten-mile-wide valley with the Blue Ridge Mountains at its western edge. …
… The Purcellville exit came up quickly and he turned south toward town.
Ten minutes later, he turned right into the Thomases’ narrow gravel road and headed up a steep hill. Dust from the red Honda just in front of him caused him to slow down a little so he could see clearly. A few seconds later a flashing blinker told him that the Honda was headed to the same dinner invitation.
Both cars dodged the holes in the Thomases’ driveway, but each had to drive at a slower pace than the sheriff’s deputy had managed earlier that day.
And so forth.
Next we get this bit:
Cooper pulled his old Buick Park Avenue off to the side of the driveway, right next to the neighbor’s garden area. A raven-haired woman in her late twenties parked the Honda behind Rick’s Suburban. One look at her face and Cooper wished his car would transform itself into a Mitsubishi Eclipse or a BMW or anything but the twelve-year-old big Buick his aunt had given him. He was saving for a big down payment on a home, with a decent care as a distant future goal. He was often embarrassed by his old “grandpa” car but not enough to go into debt. Listening to some Larry Burkett tapes about staying debt-free had drilled that conviction deep.
Okay, but does he know that a mortgage is also debt? He is, after all, saving for a down payment on a home, which suggests that he’s going to take a loan from the bank.
“Hi,” she said with a friendly smile.
“Good evening. You must be Laura,” he replied.
“Right. And you are Rick’s friend, the lawyer?”
“Yeah, I’m the lawyer. Cooper Stone is my name.”
“Oh, Deanna told me your name, but I thought Cooper Stone was the name of the whole law firm, not just the name of one guy.”
When he enters the house, Cooper meets the Garvises.
Doug Garvis, a man of average height and a husky build, was clutching a manila envelope and his wife Jeanne, a trim dark-haired woman with a wholesome kind of prettiness, was tightly clutching their daughter, who sat on her right.
A wholesome kind of prettiness.
Oh and by the way, the reason Deanna isn’t in the room when Rick makes the introductions is that she is “scurrying about in the kitchen behind them.” It makes sense that she’s getting the food ready—I’ve been in the kitchen when company arrives plenty of times—but after all the sexism already seen in this book, “scurrying about in the kitchen” feels off.
Cooper looks at the Garvises’ papers. He finds only one difference:
“Rick and Deanna are being cited for violating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by engaging in him schooling, which the Convention claims is contrary to the child’s best interest. Doug and Jeanne are being cited for removing Emily from the family life education program in her public school classroom—your classroom, Laura,” he said turning toward her again.
Laura is not only Layton and Emily’s third grade Sunday school teacher at their church, she is also the third grade teacher at a local public school, and Emily is in her class. Cooper’s comments above make me curious about the nature of the family life education program in Laura’s class and why Emily’s parents removed her—especially given that Laura is also her Sunday school teacher, and attends the same church. Is the program taught by someone else, and not Laura?
Unfortunately, unless I missed it when I re-read the book a month ago, I don’t think the content of the family life education program—or Laura’s involvement in it—is ever addressed. But in an odd way, it strikes me as more real than most of the rest of this.
From the 1960s to the present, conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists have often reacted in a knee-jerk way to any education program that might be included under the umbrella of “sex education,” regardless of content. I could see the answer being that the content of the program is unobjectionable—that Laura sees it as good, and perhaps even teaches it—and yet Emily’s parents pulled her anyway, perhaps after reading something by Concerned Women for America.
The other allegations involve corporal punishment and religious indoctrination, and are the same in either case, Cooper explains. I’m doing a lot of summarizing here because we already know what the charges will be. We saw the plot being hatched. It’s a bit repetitive to read it all being hashed out on the plaintiff’s side now.
Cooper et al. are still baffled by the religious indoctrination charges, and why it would be the same charge for both families. Suddenly Cooper has a revelation and turns to Laura:
“It’s you. Your Sunday school class. That’s the instruction the two kids have in common.”
Having worked that out, Cooper is still baffled. He asks Laura what she taught that day and she says it was about missions, but she can’t remember any specifics. So Cooper asks her if she still has her lesson notes.
“Yeah, I have a file at my house. I’d be happy to give them to you.”
“Where do you live?” he asked. His stomach fluttered at the thought of getting her address and phone number so easily.
Has he even asked whether she’s seeing someone? No. No he has not.
By the way, for those interested in the ongoing travelogue, we have this:
“In the townhomes just off Sycolin Road near Route 7 bypass in Leesburg.”
Cooper arranges to pick up the notes when he’s heading home from work the next day. At this point Deanna calls everyone for dinner, and they spend the evening getting to know each other.
One last thing:
Both couples were relieved to hear of Cooper’s six years’ experience as a lawyer assigned to be his boss’s representative to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. No other lawyer in Leesburg would have gotten that close to treaties.
This makes me curious, because in the last chapter Cooper made this statement to Rick and Deanna:
“We are dealing with issues that are not only new to me, but I’m pretty sure have never been dealt with by any lawyer in the country. Treaties. Third party plaintiffs in dependency cases. Constitutional rights.”
Does Cooper actually have experience in international law? Is a staff lawyer being a Senator’s the representative to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a thing? And would this give Cooper experience in international law?
And don’t worry, we’ll learn more about Laura soon. Cooper isn’t one to move slowly (which does make me wonder, again, why he’s not already married).
I have a Patreon! Please support my writing!