Saturday, June 22, 2019

Beartown - Fredrick Backman

Fredrik Backman is a Swedish columnist and writer whose books seem finally to be getting their due in the United States.  Backman first came to my attention just a few months ago when I first heard about (probably because of the movie of the same title) his 2012 debut novel A Man Called Ove. I enjoyed that one so much that I started looking for more of Backman’s work and quickly came upon the quirky My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (2013).  That one led me to Beartown (2017), the novel of his I’ve enjoyed most to this point.  And now that I know that 2018’s Us Against You is a sequel to Beartown, I can’t wait to get my hands on that one.

I read the fabulous audiobook version of this one narrated by Marin Ireland, and I came away as impressed with Ireland’s narrative talents as I already was with Backman’s writing skills.  This is another of those books that require the complete avoidance of spoilers, so if you have any interest in reading this one, do make a special effort not to let that happen to you.  That would be a real shame.

The first third or so of Beartown has all the makings of what you might expect from the typical coming-of-age story set in any youth sports environment, in this particular case, ice hockey.  Youth sports can be brutal in a lot of subtle ways, especially when parents try to relive their own youth through the bodies of their sons and daughters – kids who are seldom prepared for all the pressure they will be (sometimes inadvertently, I suppose) subjected to by their parents, siblings, and coaches.  In this case, the pressure to excel is immense and, because Beartown is a tiny village deep in the Swedish forest, that pressure comes from an entire community.  Having a winning hockey team is absolutely the most important thing to the majority of Beartown’s citizens when it comes to determining their and the town’s self-image.  And, if they have their way about it, they will win at any cost.

Fredrik Backman
Backman sets up Beartown beautifully, and just when you think you can see where the next two-thirds of the book is going to take you, you find out just how wrong you are.  Beartown is not a just story about how kids begin to play a sport when they are four or five years old, and what that game and the teammates they grow up with will mean to them for the rest of their lives.  Oh, it’s about that, don’t get me wrong; but it is about so, so much more than that.  It’s about people, and what those people are willing to do and ignore “for the sake of the team,” and about how something that happens in childhood can be something you think about every day for the rest of your life – even if you don’t want to. 

Sadly, I’ve heard similar stories in the real world.  We all have.

Book Number 3,409

4 comments:

  1. I haven't read any of Backman's other books, but this one appeals to me.

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    1. I probably should have mentioned in the review that female readers should let the hockey aspect of this one scare them off because it contains some of the strongest female characters I've run into in a long time. Backman is very good at writing that kind of female character, I think.

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  2. I've yet to read any of Backman's books although I've heard wonderful things about them.

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    1. I like all three of the ones I've read, but Beartown is by a good margin my favorite of the three. I've placed the sequel on hold at my library, and I'm really looking forward to it.

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