Chapter 8 opens with Cooper visiting Suskins’ office to participate in the depositions of Jody Easler and Nora Stoddard. This means Cooper gets to ask them questions, on the record, and it will be recorded.
The tall mahogany doors swung open slowly. Solid construction—no hollow-core here, Cooper thought. “Baxter, Connolly and Suskins” was embalmed in gold leaf on the frosted glass wall that ran for thirty-five feet to the right of the reception desk. A variety of letter seating choices were strategically placed throughout the ample waiting area.
I can only assume that Farris included this section in case we missed that Suskins’ office is one of those really posh, upscale ones the first thirty-two times he signaled it. He does this throughout.
There’s also this weird bit:
“Good morning, sir, may I help you?”
Cooper had seen blond receptionists before. And he had seen perfect smiles before. But being greeted by a smiling, blond receptionist who just happened to be male was a new experience.
“I’m Cooper Stone—here for some depositions with Mr. Suskins,” he answered.
“Oh yes, Mr. Stone. You are a little early,” the young man with the smile said.
This signifies …. what, exactly?
I reread the whole book before starting the review series, and I don’t think the male blond receptionist comes up again. Perhaps Farris is simply trying to highlight the difference between Suskins’ upscale, D.C. office with its female partners and male receptionists, and Cooper’s wholesome, small town office with its male partners and female receptionists, maintaining the natural order of things.
It’s interesting that Farris is seemingly so blasé about the idea of female receptionists. Growing up in his milieux, the stigma around women working frequently centered just as much on a concern about women tempting men in the workplace as it did on women needing to be home for their kids. Female receptionists could easily be framed as potential temptresses—making male receptionists a safer option.
That’s assuming, of course, that Farris isn’t intending to suggest that Suskins is gay, or that the smiling blond receptionist is some partner’s boy toy and I’m just missing it. But given that this is—I think—his only mention, I don’t think that’s it.
Regardless, blond male receptionist points Cooper to a room.
He placed his notebook, legal pad, and pen in position on the massive wooden table, which gave the glow of a professional administered shine.
Cooper is ready for the depositions.
When the room fills with the rest of the parties involved, Cooper is surprised at the large number of people in the room—half a dozen or so. At last, Suskins enters with two women.
“Good morning, Mr. Stone,” Suskins said, with a courteous smile and an extended hand.
Cooper recognized one of the two women with Suskins as Melissa VanLandingham, who had sat with the senior lawyer at counsel table in their first hearing. The attractive brunette in a formfitting, pale blue business suit on Suskins’ left was new to him.”
“Hello, Mr. Suskins,” Cooper replied.
“Please be seated, and let’s begin,” Suskins replied.
“Is our witness here?” Cooper asked. “I am sorry, but I don’t know who is in the rooms and I haven’t met Ambassador Easler before.”
This whole section is painfully awkward. I suspect that this is at least partially Farris’ intent—Cooper is feeling awkward and out of place. He wants us to feel his awkwardness. And here, at least, he succeeds.
The woman in the blue suit, of course, is Jody Easler.
Suskins wants this whole thing over with as quickly as possible. He launched straight into the proceedings without introducing any of his associates, which upsets Cooper. I don’t know enough about legal etiquette in situations like this to know whether this is the misstep—or snub?—that Farris makes it out to be.
“Well, shall we begin?” Suskins asked again.
Cooper took his seat, realizing that Suskins had no intentions of engaging in any preliminary small talk, nor of making any introductions of the other three women and two men seated around the table.
“Fine,” the young lawyer answered. He turned to the court reporter on his left. “Can you swear in Ambassador Easler as the witness, please?”
When that was done, with an oath that omitted any reference to God, the reporter nodded silently at Cooper.
“Please state your name and position for the record,” he began.
“Jody Easler. Dr. Jody Easler, I guess I should add, since this seems relatively formal. I am the United States ambassador to the United Nations delegation in Geneva.”
First, note that three out of five of Suskins associates—as well as VanLandingham—are women. This should perhaps be read alongside Farris’ emphasis on Suskins’ office having a male secretary. Second, note Farris’ emphasis on the fact that the oath did not reference God. Once again, he’s signaling something.
Third, what exactly is going on with Jody’s introduction? The U.S. has a delegation to the United Nations. Jody stating that she is the “United Nations ambassador to the United Nations delegation in Geneva” is (if I’m not terribly wrong) gobbledy goop. The correct way? She is a part of the U.S. delegation to the U.N.
That said, there is only one U.S. ambassador to the U.N.—and it’s a very prestigious position. Thus far, Farris has treated Jody as ambassador for the purposes of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child—she’s a child psychologist focused on children’s rights—but that isn’t a position that exists.
Back several chapters, Farris introduced both Jody and Nora separately as “the director of the National Commission on Children in the United States.” He also stated that Nora reports to Jody, and that Jody “holds the title of deputy secretary of state as well as the rank of ambassador here in Geneva.”
It does not work like that.
If you’re confused about who Jody and Nora are, exactly, you’re not alone. We all are. As best I can tell, reading between the lines, Jody is a well-known and well-connected children’s rights activist in the U.S. who has been made part of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. specifically to deal with the implementation of the U.N. Commission on the Rights of the Child. Nora runs the nation-level office in charge of implementing the treaty, but ultimately reports to Jody, who reports to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Anyway, Cooper, as you remember, is questioning Jody.
“Madam Ambassador, my first question is this: Who are all the people with you here in the room? Since no one has introduced them to me, I ask you who is who for the record.”
Suskins rolls his eyes and informs Cooper the they’re his associates, and not Jody’s. Since they filed in separately from Jody—and separately from Suskins too, but this is Suskins’ office—I would guess Cooper probably knew this. Whether or not he knew this when asking Jody, his question is passive aggressive.
Cooper asks Suskins for his associates names, again for the record. Suskins hems and haws and—it seems—doesn’t know their names. No really, that’s what Farris tells us:
“…because you seem intent on knowing the names of our associates, well, no, Melissa, why don’t you tell Mr. Stone which associates are here this morning?”
Cooper noticed a slight reddening of embarrassment on the cheeks of one of the young female lawyers on Suskins’ right. He suspected that the senior partner didn’t know their names well enough to introduce them.
I’m assuming we’re supposed to think only worse of Suskins now. Personally, I’m annoyed with Cooper. When Suskins was pushing him to start the deposition quickly, he should have stated directly that he’d like to have everyone in the room introduced. He didn’t. Instead, he headed in, and went passive aggressive.
And so we’re introduced to Nicholas Drake, Sarah Henderson, Tracy Thornton, Mason Higgins, and Christina Cooke, none of whom, if I remember correctly, matter at all to the rest of the book.
But you’re probably thinking that this is very boring. You’re right. It is very boring. You’re in luck! Farris does not detail the depositions themselves. He doesn’t even say what Cooper asked. Not a word. He only says that they were very well coached—perfectly coached—and then, once Cooper is gone, he reveals that someone fed Cooper’s questions to them in advance. VanLundingham is all wink wink nod nod about it.
“You both did very well,” the attorney [VanLundingham] said with a knowing smile. “So well, one would think that you had been given the questions in advance.”
Nora looked nervously at Dr. Easler and then back at her.
“Rest easy, Ms. Stoddard,” Melissa replied. “No one knows.”
“Too bad Mr. Stone is on the other side,” Dr. Easler intervened. “I kind of like the way he looks and conducts himself.”
“Well, I’ll leave that observation alone,” the lawyer replied. “But I do agree that he was well prepared and ad-libbed quite professionally form his script on a few occasions. He is not a bad lawyer for a small-town, small-office practitioner.”
That evening, after the depositions, Cooper goes to Rick and Deanna’s house to debrief then and the Garvises on the state of the case, and to prepare them for their own depositions the next day. Laura the-ambiguously-taken-Sunday-school-teacher is there too, of course. We’ll get to that in a moment.
Cooper starts with a conversation outside with Rick, who is worried about money and “afraid for our country.” He’s scared—really scared—but he doesn’t want the womenfolk to know, of course.
“I don’t want Deanna to hear how I am feeling,” Rick answered quickly. “I have to be strong in front of her. She is so afraid and angry that she is about to lose any semblance of rational control. So please don’t go anywhere with these comments from me. If others raise their own fears, so be it. But I am going to pretend not to be bothered. I just wanted you to know that, in reality, I am scared to death. OK?”
Cool. Great plan!
I mean, so much for being able to confide in your partner. And he’s not even giving Deanna the opportunity to support him here, because he’s hiding how he’s feeling from her completely.
Deanna Troi would have some things to say about this.
In my own experience, I’ve found that fear doesn’t always feed off of fear, or anxiety off of anxiety. Sometimes, learning that a thing is really upsetting my partner too goads me to work through my own worry more productively. And sometimes, when I’m really worried about something, learning that my partner is worried too lets me know that he understands how I feel—that I don’t have to keep verbalizing everything in an effort to explain my worry, that we can simply be a team, together—and knowing this helps.
Rick isn’t even giving Deanna a chance at any of this. In some sense, he’s setting her up to continue obsessively freaking out. She is given no opportunity too channel her energy into supporting him, because she doesn’t know he’s upset. She’s given extra incentive to continue verbalizing her fears, because she thinks he doesn’t understand them (given that he is claiming not to be bothered by the case).
And I’m going to stop here, because I am not a psychologist, but I get the feeling there’s a lot going on here that is gendered and would be fascinating to explore. There’s an interesting relationship going on here between gender and coping within relationships in high-stress environments.
As the evening winds down, Cooper steps outside. Laura follows him.
“Cooper?” He turned around to see Laura facing him on the darkened porch.
“Yes, Laura,” he replied, feeling suddenly energetic again.
“I just want to tell you that I really admire what you are doing for these families,” she said softly.
Cooper says it’s nothing—he’s just doing what any lawyer would do. Laura says that’s not true. This is one problem with affecting modesty, whether real or not—it puts others in a position of having to insist that no, really, what you’re doing really is amazing—thus amplifying their praise. A simple thank-you would suffice.
After they go back and forth on this for a while, things move in a more … intimate … direction.
Laura smiled and looked at Cooper with an expression that was totally unguarded. Cooper began to lose the battle with his arms, which ached to reach out and bring her into his embrace.”
He starts to embrace her. She freaks out. He drops his arms and feels like crap. How fun! So then they start talking about Terry Pipkin, Laura’s boyfriend. Cooper wants to know if they’re engaged.
“No, not really,” Laura said, shaking her head. “Oh, we’ve talked about marriage since we were sixteen or seventy, but he has never really asked me to marry him.”
“Is he waiting on something in particular?”
“I wish I knew.”
Laura explains that at first they were waiting for him to finish college, but he kept switching majors and taking time off for missions work, so he graduated late. As a result, this is the end of his first year in his chosen career field—he’s an American history teacher at a local high school. The problem is that he wants to earn more than Laura before they get married, and she’s got three years of teaching on him.
Can we pause and appreciate the fact that Laura is an elementary school teacher while Terry is a high school teacher? Okay, enough time spent on that.
Cooper asks Laura if she still wants to marry Terry. This is a rather intimate conversation for people who haven’t known each other for very long, and that only in a professional capacity. But then, these sorts of conversations are sometimes best held with someone with more distance from a situation anyway.
So, does she want to marry Terry? Sort of?
“It’s just that I gave him my heart so many years ago that I don’t even know how to think in any other ways. So, yes, I have wanted to marry him for years and I still do. In fact, I feel really guilty every time I’m with you.”
At this point, Rick comes out and interrupts their conversation.
Farris published this book in 2002. He published his previous book, Anonymous Tip, in 1996. Josh Harris published I Kissed Dating Goodbye in 1997. Much changed in six short years.
To a certain extent, the love story Farris narrates in this book is actually a critique of Harris’ teachings. In some ways, it’s a surprisingly direct critique. In other ways, it could be read as a critique of the way some leaders in the homeschool community interpreted Harris’ work, and not Harris’ work itself.
To understand what is going on here, it is perhaps important to note that Farris is included in Harris’ book. Harris’ father, Greg Harris, knew Farris. They all swam in the same pool, as early Christian homeschool leaders. Josh Harris included a story about Farris—or, in particular, how Farris handled his teenage daughter’s love affair with a fellow homeschool student—in his book.
In the story, Farris’ daughter Christy was romantically engaged with another homeschooled teen she knew while in high school. Farris did not approve—he felt they were too young. He ordered the two to break it off and forbade contact between them well into college. Ultimately, the two got back together, but only after Farris gave his blessing, deciding that they were old enough and mature enough to pursue a relationship.
Farris appears to have something against early relationships. In this book—as we’ll see as the story continues—the message he sends is that staying with a guy you don’t fit with because you got together when you were too young isn’t worth it, even if leaving means you come into a new relationship with a prior.
This perhaps isn’t surprising—in his first book, dashing lawyer Peter marries Gwen, a divorce. The problem in that case was that she had divorced for unbiblical reasons and her ex was still alive. The fact that having been married before would mean she’d already “given away a piece of her heart” never comes up.
Reading between the lines, Farris doesn’t seem to be all that sold on the idea of emotional purity, a concept that was promoted heavily in Harris’ book and took the evangelical homeschool world by storm.
Rick can see what’s going on between Cooper and Laura. He and Cooper talk money—Cooper suggests that they may want to reach out to Concerned Women for America for funding—and Rick jokingly asks how much Cooper would charge “if I could clear a path for you and Laura.” “A buck and a half,” Cooper responds.
And that’s the end of chapter 8.
I have a Patreon! Please support my writing!