Hell Fire is Karin Fossum’s latest excellent murder mystery. As usual Fossum’s story is heavy with troubled family relationships and people who are struggling. The detectives are not partcularly quirky; they play a background role in this family tragedy. The all consuming struggle of two single mothers trying to cope with bad circumstances and parenting challenges moves this story forward. There isn’t a lot of emotion to the matter-of-fact narration, but the story is well told and compelling, and I found myself thinking about it quite a bit afterward.
At the time it seemed like gay marriage almost burst on the scene as a demand and as a right. In their beautiful book Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality, Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell (the plaintiff in the Supreme Court’s landmark decision Obergfell v. Hodges) provide the context and the stories behind the decisions that established the right to gay marriage and recognition of gay marriage. Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen all that quickly and their were significant bumps in the road along the way. The legal cases started with a dying man who could not have his lover and then husband of 20 years listed on his death certificate and who couldn’t provide for his husband the same way a heterosexual husband or wife could because the State of Ohio refused to recognize a gay marriage lawfully performed in another state. That’s a very real situation that focused the legal argument and the court’s attention. The relationship of Obergefell and his husband john Arthur is movingly described, and the mere thought of denying their marriage legal recognition is to deny their humanity. Similarly, gay couples with children were only permitted to list one parent on the birth certificate, despite their lawful marriages in other states. That arbitrary position meant that the non-listed parent had no legal status vis-a-vis the child — no right to information about or decision making authority regarding the child’s health, welfare and education. In retrospect, it seems bizarre that any state would go to the trouble to fight gay marriage and recognition of gay marriage when the plaintiffs were fighting for the right to care for and belong to each other, but fight it Ohio did.
Love Wins is powerful because of the human stories it contains, but it also shows how effective lawyers and the legal process can be to protect rights that the majority might deny. The legal history and strategy is absolutely fascinating, and Al Gerhardstein, the main lawyer in the book, is a true hero. He gets kicked in the teeth with hostile court decisions, but he keeps going. He’s not getting rich, but he can obtain justice for his clients. Although Obergefell’s husband didn’t live to see his right vindicated, a satisfying sense of justice and love pervades this book. Reflecting back, I was also touched by all the people who supported the gay plaintiffs and their families. Hostile or simply stunned parents came to realize they loved their gay kids, that their love was unconditional and that their kids needed them. Parents became supporters and advocates. That was their real world, thank goodness.
For all of us who loved Fredrik Backman’s novel A Man Called Ove, it is great news that his wonderful novel has been made into a movie. It kind of slipped into a couple of New York theatres this weekend with precious little if any publicity. I’m not sure anything will top the experience of reading the novel for the first time, but this is a very good movie. It is particularly good at telling Ove’s back story — how and why he became the stubborn, remote and defeated man we find at the beginning of the movie. The acting is excellent, particularly that of the pregnant Iranian neighbor (played by Bahar Pars) and her two daughters. Filipino Berg’s performance as the young Ove is very effective at setting the stage for the older Ove (played by Rolf Lassgard). Lassgard gives a moving and convincing performance as the older Ove who is struggling with profound grief. Ove is determined to disengage from the world, while at the same time he is absolutely compulsive about other peoples’ failure to follow the rules and behave intelligently. I also really liked the performance of Ida Engvoll as Sonja, Ove’s young wife. The film’s ending ispredictable, but it is also lovely. This is a very human movie — there are laughs an tears, but not too many of the latter. I really recommend it.