The story follows Ralph Stearns from his early years as a Utah Mormon, through his move to New York and embrace of secularism, and into his career as a lawyer. After a stressful, dehumanizing experience at a major law firm, Stearns and several of his colleagues establish their own firm representing stockholders in corporate litigation. They start small, but over the decades they grow into a lucrative enterprise. Stearns juggles mounting professional obligations and persistent family drama, but the novel reaches its stride late in Stearns’ career as he prepares to take on the biggest case of his career—a lawsuit taking on the Mormon church. The case accuses the church of fraud, based on its insistence on tithing despite its ample coffers. The story’s final half follows that case from beginning to end, as Stearns’ personal and professional lives reach their climaxes. The novel manages to combine courtroom drama with theological discussion, and the overall setup is interesting, particularly given the unique issues of the Mormon church. However, the story falls apart in its execution. Its long legal explorations may leave lay readers baffled, and may even leave legal professionals cold. Outside the courtroom, Ralph proves neither interesting nor sympathetic, as he lives a life filled with stock pathologies, including infidelity. The workmanlike prose aims for a knowing, world-weary tone (“The sex was as good as advertised”), but far too often, it feels unnecessary. Silverman, a former lawyer, makes an admirable effort to marry his expertise with the demands of a novel, but too often procedure trumps drama, and archetypes win out over realistic characters.
A novel with an intriguing premise, hampered by too much legalese.