“Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead, and pulled the trigger.
This is the story of how we got there.”
With perhaps the most memorable of openings, Fredrik Backman begins Beartown (Atria 2017, English translation by Neil Smith. Originally published in Swedish, Bjӧrnstad 2016) with a bang. This is my fourth Backman novel, and I can say without hesitation that he is one of my top five authors. Your first Backman is always your favorite because he’s such a special writer, and that first experience with his storytelling style settles tight around your heart. For many, their first was Beartown. My first was A Man Called Ove, and that remains my favorite simply because it was my first. Backman is that good.
I’ve said before that Backman is a “heartbeat author” and that “his books are hugs, eyelash kisses, and belly laughs.” But he’s also a “heartbreak author” and his books, especially Beartown, are tinged with anger, grief, and despair. His characters and communities are so perfectly imperfect, and his storytelling style, the love and humor and warmth, is what makes a book about a rape in hockey town so fantastic.
Beartown is a small forest town in Sweden that lives and breathes hockey, because junior hockey is all they have. If they can just get a successful team, they’ll get sponsors, and hockey money will breathe new life into the struggling town. The team of young boys is one win away when the daughter of the GM tells her father that the star player raped her.
Lines are drawn. Is hockey more important than a young girl? Sides must be chosen, and it nearly rips the town and team apart.
Beartown is the first of a trilogy, and the final installment is set for publication at the end of this year. The second, Us Against You, is on my TBR for early fall just because I like to space my Backman reads out.
Read this book.