Us Against You, by Fredrik Backman (2017, 2018)

Us Against You, by Fredrik BackmanThis is my fifth review of a book by Swedish writer Fredrik Backman, and his second title in the Beartown trilogy. I loved the first book, about the devastating impact of a young hockey star’s sexual assault on a teenaged classmate. This sequel picks up where we left off in Beartown. The hockey club is in shambles – most of the players have left for another club and it looks like the team will be closing. A self-serving politician steps in and finagles a way for the Bears to stay alive. There’s a new coach too – a woman, which goes over in this sexist Swedish factory town like a pride festival in small-town Utah. Violence threatens to erupt on every page as Beartown’s residents cope with one humiliation after another. I really struggled to get into this book – it feels so dark, right from page one. Backman continues with his unflinching look at the citizens of this hardscrabble hockey town, shining his writer’s flashlight on incidents of intolerance, abuse, and addiction. But he also shows us love, acceptance, and strength, especially by those who are most often hurt by the actions of others. They keep getting hit, and keep getting up, making this ultimately a story of strength and resilience. The title is about hockey at its simplest, a backyard game or an NHL playoff. Two teams, us against you. The two teams are overtly Beartown and Hed, of course, but the binary metaphor applies in many ways – straights and gays, men and women, good and bad. Ultimately, Backman makes the point that a binary perspective is divisive, that diversity is strength, and that we need to prioritize forgiveness, of ourselves and others. Originally published last year in Swedish, it is powerfully translated again by Neil Smith, though I struggled more with the staccato pacing than I did with Beartown. There is a LOT of foreshadowing, too much for my liking. I also grew irritated with the meta-commentary (“This is a story about ….”; “This is not a story about ….”). Having said that, I do recommend it for those who have read the first book, and I will read the final one as well. Backman is a powerful writer, and I do so enjoy the journey when he is at the wheel, even if it sometimes takes me to places I don’t like to see. My thanks to Atria Books for the digital reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
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