Genre: Literary Fiction
Publication Date: 25 April 2017
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
“People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.
Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.
Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.”
My Thoughts: Fredrik Backman’s latest novel is without a doubt one of the best books I have read. It is not just the story, which tears at your heartstrings and examines society’s flaws. His writing is gorgeous. His character development is precise but detailed. He does it all without the need for flowery prose or lengthy descriptions. Taken together, it is the type of novel that forces you to pause, to savor, to rest, to recover, and to question all while also entertaining.
Like so many other novels, it is best to go into Beartown without knowing much about it. This allows the story to unfold around you with no expectations or preconceptions, thereby fully drawing you into to it. Mr. Backman sets up the story with his opening sentence and never lets your attention wan after that. The story is not an easy one to read though, given its subject matter. However, he does an excellent job of presenting all sides of the story without judgment and with delicacy, making it an excellent choice for book clubs because there is so much to discuss. Readers will find themselves needing to take a break from the novel though because his words are so perfect that the emotional tension of the story gets to be overwhelming at times. Yet, even while not reading it, the story never releases its hold on you as you mull over everything that you just read.
To say that Beartown is a story about hockey is misleading. Hockey is just the sport chosen for the backdrop of the story. For American readers, one could easily replace hockey with football, basketball, or baseball. While it is at the center of the story, it is not a sports novel. It is about the power of sports and the fanaticism of sports fans, how one team can make or break a town. It is the darker side of sports, where the boundaries between real life and the game blur, and yet, it is a story about so much more than that.
Even if you were not fans of his previous novels, Beartown is more than worth taking a chance. It is a timely story, as professional athletes’ behavior on and off the field garners more scrutiny. It is a story to which almost everyone can relate in some way. Moreover, it is one that forces you to question the values society places on sports and athletes.
I saw an interview with the author and for some reason I thought he was a lot older than he is. You and I talked about this one before. It’s on my list.
I actually met him at BEA in 2016 and was surprised at his age then. He is one heck of a writer for being relatively young!
I’m listening to the audio of this right now, and loving it. I appreciate that your review is not focused on the story as much as the themes and feel of the book. I am loving it, I’m about 20% in. I can’t wait to finish.
I hope you love it as much as I do!
I’ve had my doubts about this one because sports, but you make a really compelling case. I do love an examination of fanaticism. Great review!
Andi, you would absolutely love this one. Ignore the sports and just go for it!
I think what’s making this book translate beyond a sports community is that, in this case it’s sports, but it’s really an examination of any sort of community power structure. Can be applied to politics, business, class, etc.
And – I totally agree it’s best to go in blind. I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to. A very large book blogger compared Beartown to another book that completely gave away the big plot theme in her mini review of it. GRR. But, I managed to love it anyway.
I think a lot of people would not read it if they were to find out the big plot theme ahead of time, as the plot tends to cause people to yell “trigger warning” or cause people to make certain assumptions. I think that does the novel and the subject a disservice because Backman handles the topic with such care, nullifying all assumptions and making it something that people can read about and be able to discuss. That sucks about the book blogger who ruined the plot for you; that’s just wrong.