The Bookworm: Past meets present

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Wedlocked: The Perils of Marriage Equality”

By Katherine Franke

c.2015, New York University Press

$26.00, higher in Canada; 275 pages

“Wedlocked: The Perils of Marriage Equality” by Katherine Franke

You’re not in any hurry.

The ring’s on your finger, the engagement was just announced and you both feel like you’ve got plenty of time. Now’s your chance to enjoy the process of getting married. Here’s your opportunity to plan the future. But “Wedlocked: The Perils of Marriage Equality” by Katherine Franke asks the question: Why marry at all?

When President George Washington died, his will stipulated that his slaves be given their freedom when his wife, Martha, who inherited them, would die.

This, says Katherine Franke, accidentally “put a price" on Martha’s head, but moreover, it was an acknowledgment on Washington’s part that shows one complexity of slavery: marriage between the Washington slaves meant that freeing his without freeing hers could break up families. This issue, and others before and after the Civil War, illustrates how “many of the experiences of African Americans held out a message to the same-sex marriage movement today.”

Throughout American history, Franke says, the “rules” of marriage for non-white or gay individuals hid a double-edged sword of enhanced rights and enforced matrimonial laws complicated by pre-Emancipation fluidity of relationships and looser definitions of “marriage” within African American communities then, and by somewhat of a lack of awareness in the LGBT community, complicated by different state laws now. The bottom line that’s often not emphasized: when a couple marries, the state suddenly “acquires a legal interest in your relationship.” Now, as then, marriage may also be legally “forced” on a couple: in the case of former slaves, to gain benefits in wartime; for LGBT couples, in the continuation of health benefits. Even after all that, marriage, as Franke reminds readers, has never offered a guarantee from discrimination.

Is it possible, Franke asks, that “the inability to marry creates a kind of freedom from the ‘bonds’ of marriage?” At a time when the rates of marriage in the black community are low and LGBT parents are demanding new legal definitions of “family,” will marriage become antiquated? Or is the “freedom” to marry just another way for society to meddle in the lives of marginalized individuals?

Surely, few readers would consider “Wedlocked” a fun weekend read. It’s not exactly what you’d take to the beach with you. Fun, no. Interesting, absolutely.

It’s also quite thought-provoking. Author Katherine Franke is, in part, director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia University, and in this book, she asks hard questions between jaw-dropping history lessons and proof that marriage is both burden and boon to anyone who’s not white and straight. That’s not to say that the institution is dead; instead, Franke wonders if, of all rights denied former slaves and gay individuals, marriage may have been the oddest choice for legal battles.

But which other right would’ve been better? The answer to that seems to be left open for discussion; indeed, readers are given much to ponder from this heavy-duty, scholarly book. Just beware that time is the key to opening “Wedlocked,” now in paperback. Enjoy and contemplate, but don’t be in any hurry.

“The Trick”

By Emanuel Bergmann

c.2017, Atria

$26.00 / $35.00 Canada; 378 pages

Emanuel Bergmann, author of "The Trick"


Watch closely and see before – poof! – the hidden object is gone. Abracadabra, it reappears right in front of you. You know it’s all an illusion. The hand really is quicker than the eye, but, as in the new novel “The Trick” by Emanuel Bergmann, the spell may take several decades.

Max Cohn’s best friend, Joey, knew all about the problem.

He’d been through his own parents’ divorce and so Joey told Max how things would go down at home. Sadly, everything happened exactly the way he said it would, and Max, who’d had a “fairly normal” life until then, knew that everything had changed.

He hated change.

He hated that his father was moving out and that he had to stay with his mother and, well, pretty much everything. He felt hopeless, until he found a shiny black round thing that his dad had told him about once, something called a record from some old guy, a magician named Zabbatini. The last track on the record: a love spell.

Resourceful and excited, Max found a way to listen to the record but it was scratched. No big deal; he’d find Zabbatini and he’d talk him into doing the spell in person. By then, Max was sure that Zabbatini was the only one who could fix things. Alas, also by then, Zabbatini was a very old man…

“The Trick” by Emanuel Bergmann

The birth of Moshe Goldenhirsch was a marvel.

His parents had tried to have children but it didn’t happen until Laibl Goldenhirsch went away to war. When he came home, his Rifka was pregnant (a miracle!) and though he was suspicious of the butcher upstairs, Laibl raised little Moshe as his own.

When Rifka died, Laibl’s sadness boiled over and one thing led to another. Father and son argued, and Moshe left his father’s home to find fame, fortune and love with the Zauber-Zirkus. At fifteen, he changed his name, his ancestry, his age and his life. He found a home and a talent he didn’t even know he had.

And years later, after another war and more loss than one man should bear, he found a little boy who believed….

I’ve read a lot of novels this year. A lot of them, but I don’t think I’ve loved any of them more than I loved “The Trick.”

Written in alternate chapters that take you from Prague to Los Angeles, to the circus, an elementary school, Germany and to a modern-day pizza parlor, author Emanuel Bergmann tells a tale that will keep you spellbound in its simple intricacy. There’s humor inside, and it’s subtle – the kind that sneaks up on you when you’re expecting a poignant moment. Likewise, the ache here is seasoned with drollness that mocks the pain of the characters. It works, all the way up to the twisty-surprise end.

This isn’t a cry-yourself-raw book, but it has its moments. It’s not an LOL kind of novel, either, but you will. No, “The Trick” is just a novel about goodness and life, and you’ll be enchanted.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.