Charles Geilich is a friend to both Dennise and me. He’s the cohost of a radio show, “A Lawyer and a Cop,” that I’ve been a guest on a couple of times in the past year. He and his wife, Mary, are also the friends who have really great Maverick tickets. (I offer both of these facts, in the interest of relatively full disclosure…)
Before Charles got trained as a lawyer, he got trained as a writer: a journalism degree from UT Austin. As we’ve gotten to know each other, we’ve found that, except for golf, we have a lot other things in common. (For Charles, however, this is akin to saying “Except for breathing, we have a lot in common”) We both have UT journalism degrees. We’re both married to family law judges. We both like the same kinds of music and political thought. And we were both at that same undergraduate school at about the same time, and even find that we were at some of the same events (concerts at the Frank Irwin Center).
Which makes us wonder, if we met each other back then, were we nice to each other?
But, I digress…you can read more about Charles here. And you can read about his profession as a lawyer here. And as I said, before Charles was a lawyer, he was a writer. And now he’s come back to those roots, with the publication of his first novel, “Domestic Relations.”
The title refers to the old-timey name for “Family Law.” In fact, I am told that older lawyer sometimes still refer to it this way. If you’re like me, and you grew up here in Dallas County, you’ll really identify with much of the “background” of this book. In fact, it may sound a bit like your own life. (Especially the early chapters about growing up in the suburbs…)
The book chronicles the life and times of family lawyer Norman Spiczek. It’s written in an easy-to-read, and very conversational first-person, style. You’ll feel as if an old friend is reading to you from his journal over coffee. But it’s filled with humor too. If you can imagine Woody Allen ghost-writing an old Raymond Chandler “film noir” novel (only the lead character is a sophisticated urban Dallas attorney, not a gritty New York detective. And, nobody dies) then you can begin to understand “Domestic Relations.”
In real life, Charles has wonderfully dry, quick, and sometimes cynically delicious sense of humor. So does his lead character, Norman Spiczek. In fact, there were at least two moments in the book where I literally guffawed out loud (as Norman relates his fears about having sex with his pregnant wife, and later when he’s visiting a doctor for a vasectomy). But there is humor throughout the book.
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and sometimes truth and fiction are both pretty strange. I don’t know a lot about family law, but I know more than the average human being. And I know enough to say that sometimes family law truth and family law fiction are both a little strange, and Charles Geilich does a good job of capturing all that strangeness. This is not a courtroom drama. No Perry Mason pyrotechnics here. But, then, much of a the average legal case does not actually take place in the courtroom. So, in that sense, it’s much more realistic than the average book about the legal profession.
If I had complaints, they would be two, and they would be minor. One is a complaint is that Norman really loves to describe the female anatomy….breasts, specifically. Just about every woman character except his mother, secretary, and opposing counsel, are described in terms of their breasts.
The second complaint would be that almost all the “clients” come off as less than sympathetic. They are rich North Dallas people with far too much money to spend on a divorce. They are men who have gotten themselves into trouble. And they are old childhood friends who have totally changed their affectation and manner. Most of them have done things that make them unsympathetic to the reader, and it’s Norman who rides to their legal rescue; making you sometimes question their motivations, other times his. Such stereotypical clients do exist in Dallas, and I know enough about this kind of law to know that most of the anecdotes in the book are loosely based on real-life situations.
But, I would bet that, now and then, Norman Spiczek encounters clients that he can actually, and deeply, sympathize with without reservation(he says as much at one point). I would bet he has clients whose stories he believes, and who don’t lie to him, and who genuinely need a lawyer to help them get out of a jam. It would have been nice to have a story or two about them, to break up the line of annoying and petty clients.
We do end up with a lot of sympathy for the old high school friend, Lisa. And perhaps her becoming “human” by sharing a deep secret with Norman serves to remind us that each of these clients have similar stories of pain and angst, lurking beneath the shiny surface of their North Dallas personas.
All in all, such complaints are really pretty minor, and Charles does a great job of blowing a humorous kiss at his profession and the city of Dallas.
Learn more below:
You can read a profile on Charles that ran in last Sunday’s Dallas Morning News here.
You can find another bio of Charles here.
And you can order the book right now from Amazon.