Amelia Montgomery is a hard-driving litigator, a partner in a prestigious Chicago law firm, Jones, Jones, & Fisher. Her demanding managing style has earned her the nickname “She-Demon.” Amelia has been tasked with defending Hugh Phoebe, a wealthy misogynist charged with sexual assault and rape. The firm’s two top attorneys – Marc Jones, Sr. and Marc Jones, Jr. – meet with her to discuss strategy, which basically requires Amelia to use anything in the women’s backgrounds to tear them apart on the witness stand. When Amelia objects, the encounter gets physical. She trips and her elbow succeeds in striking Junior on the nose, the crunch of cartilage filling the conference room. In a flash, Amelia is not only without a case, but without a job.
Amelia signs an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) and walks away with a multi-million dollar package that ensures she won’t starve, but muzzles her from discussing what prompted her to leave. Without the career that once defined her, Amelia is rudderless. Since she’s about to turn 40, her sister, Nina, convinces her to throw a party and invite people she hasn’t seen for years, as well her co-workers from JJF. When no one, besides Nina and their parents, show up, Amelia realizes that outside of work, she has no life and no friends.
One person does show up – John Ellis, JJE’s newest associate. Perhaps as a joke, Margret, Amelia’s much abused assistant, forwarded the invite to John, although he was not on Nina’s list. John, believing that much of the firm would show up, walks into a near empty restaurant. Rather than leave, he’s drawn in by Amelia’s looks and by her take-no-prisoners reputation. The two drink too much and, after ending up in bed, hatch a plan: Amelia needs to go back and apologize to all those she has insulted, maligned, hurt, etc., in the past in order to clean up her act and, hopefully, find some friends.
Next day, sober but with a blistering headache, Amelia wakes up in John’s bed, regretting the evening’s events. John, however, does not and he picks up where they left off: planning what comes to be called “The Apology Project.” He convinces Amelia – she now decides to be called Millie, signaling she’s after a new identity – to start right away. The target is a former law school friend, Brenda Nelson. Amelia once dated Brenda’s brother, Evan, until she discovered he already had a girlfriend. Although Brenda swore she didn’t know what her brother was doing, Amelia didn’t care. She broke up with Evan and stopped speaking to Brenda.
Millie’s timing isn’t great, showing up at a church where Evan has just gotten married. But encouraged by John, she manages to find and apologize to a very startled Brenda. One down, many more to go. Some of the apologies are messy, others surprising. And a few, after closer examination, don’t warrant an apology, at least not from Amelia.
For a birthday present, Millie’s mother gave her a 23andMe test kit. Millie’s father came to his family through adoption and knew nothing about his birth family. While he’s still not interested in finding out more about his background, Millie becomes fascinated. She discovers that she is part Spanish and Cuban and locates a cousin, Rosa, living in Havana. A correspondence in English begins (Rosa had lived and worked in Miami), and Millie enrolls in a Spanish class, hoping to connect more with this newfound side of her family.
Jeanette Escudero, an attorney whose parents are Cuban, has written a delightful novel that touches on many themes – family, friendship, redemption, and love. Amelia seemed to have it all, but it was only when she lost everything that she realized she had nothing without people in her life to love and care about. The Apology Project may have many people writing up their own lists of those they need to reach out to, maybe not with an apology, but perhaps with a caring and encouraging word.
The Apology Project
Top photo: Jeanette Escudero