Written by Fredrik Backman
I learned my lesson long ago. Used to be, I’d find an author I loved and read everything they wrote right away. But then the inevitable depression and angst would set in as I tried to find some other book that would measure up. Now I space them out, the literary equivalent of trying not to bite the Tootsie Roll Pop. After reading this, my second Frederick Backman book, that’s going to be hard. Beartown was as good as I’d hoped it would be.
What It’s About
Beartown is the story of a hockey town on the verge of either a national championship or a slow fade into obscurity. All of this pressure will affect its citizens in wildly different ways and change their lives forever.
The plot is very “now”, but the way Backman constructed the story means that he surprises you again and again, even when you know what’s coming. Especially then.
But even more than the timeliness and relevance of the material, Backman made me care. His characters seem so real, and I was 100% invested in what happened to each of them. There was a reality to the situation and the choices they made. As a reader, I sometimes didn’t know what I wanted to happen next. The answers didn’t seem pat, they seemed like real life.
Backman frames the action with paragraphs that explore the human condition, like “The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard. It makes demands.” Or he sections out character lines with one sentence paragraphs like “Bang. Bang. Bang.” These devices often work, and early on they were refreshing. They lent an introspective quality to the novel. They took me out of the action and gave me a way to frame the experience. But then it got to be too much. By the second half of the book, the style interrupted the flow to the point that I couldn’t sink back in.
If I could give this book 4-1/2 stars, I would. The things that bothered me about this book were nitpicky, and frankly, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed if I hadn’t had such high expectations after reading My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (still one of my favorite books of all time). This book is billed as a hockey book. It seems like it would be “sportsy”. But at its heart, it’s classic Backman: a story of how people help and hurt and lift each other up.