Beartown, by Fredrik Backman (2017)

Contemporary Fiction
33413128I have been a big fan of Fredrik Backman since reading and being absolutely captivated by his first novel, A Man Called Ove. So I didn’t hesitate when I learned he has a new novel, Beartown. I’m happy to report this novel is as mesmerising as I could have hoped. It is, however, quite a different style of writing. Ove,  Britt-Marie and Every Day could all be described as gentle reads, albeit with often irascible protagonists. This is not a gentle read. It grabs you by the shoulders and shakes you from any smug and comfortable perch. Beartown is a hockey town. It’s dying economically, but when the junior boys’ team (there is no girls’ team) makes it to the semi-finals, the entire community rejoices and pins great hopes on their success. Winning the cup will mean a lot to the team’s financial sponsors. It could also cement the promise of a hockey academy for Beartown, and even draft offers for the team’s best. So when one of the star players and the GM’S daughter are involved in a violent encounter, the ensuing fallout impacts virtually everyone in Beartown. How each reacts is a raw and telling commentary on community, leadership, family, friendship, loyalty, and more. Backman doesn’t judge; he offers a nuanced and thoughtful perspective as he describes how simple and how complicated it can be to play our various roles and responsibilities in life. How much truth there is in this observation: “Being a parent makes you feel like a blanket that’s always too small. No matter how hard you try to cover everyone, there’s always someone who’s freezing.”  Simply brilliant and brilliantly simple, this story resonates on every page and long after you finish. Neil Smith deserves great kudos for his translation. This is not, as I’ve said, an easy read. There are descriptions of brutal violence and deeply offensive jokes and comments about gay men, lesbians, and women in general, but they are anything but gratuitous. This is not a criticism of hockey culture specifically, but it does cause you to contemplate the many ways we communicate to others what we believe in and what we stand for, and what we are willing to ignore. Powerful and memorable, this is one of my favourite books this year. Loved it. My thanks to publisher Atria Books for the advance reading copy provided through NetGalley  in exchange for my honest review.
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