Monday, March 5, 2018

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

The Scandinavian literature keeps pouring in, and I am grateful for it.  I have read nearly all Fredrick Backman’s work, including his latest novel, Beartown, and I am happy to add it to my collection. 

This is a peculiar story.  Normally, I dislike novels and sports, but ice hockey is a favorite pastime, so I slid into my hockey days.  This story tells of a small town with little to be proud of—except their hockey team—rated as the second best any where.  Backman writes, “Beartown isn’t close to anything.  Even on a map the place looks unnatural.  ‘As if a drunk giant tried to urinate in the snow,’ some might say.  ‘As if nature and man were fighting a tug-of-war for space,’ more high-minded souls might suggest.  Either way, the town is losing.  It has been a very long time since it won at anything.  More jobs disappear each year, and with them the people, and the forest devours one or two more abandoned houses each season.  Back in the days when there were still things to boast about, the city council erected a sign beside the road at the entrance to the town with the sort of slogan that was popular at the time: ‘Beartown—Leaves You Wanting More!’  The wind and snow took a few years to wipe out the word ‘More.’  (3).

But some of the wealthier residents have pitched in and built up anew program.  And the upcoming game of the Junior league, is filled with talent and determination.  The boys live, eat, and drink their sport.  Backman writes, “Hockey is never satisfied being part of your life, it wants to be all of it” (16).  They also have hopes of attracting a hockey academy on the strength of these youngsters.  As in the U.S., these young boys are the super stars of the game, and they know they can get away with everything.  Sune is a long-time successful coach, but the council wants a younger person to take over the junior team.  David is a retired NHL player with an unusual approach to coaching hockey.  His future depends on how well the team plays in the championship match at the end the season.

Benji is a young player who idolizes Kevin, the superstar of the team.  Backman writes, [Benji] “cycles away from home before his mom wakes up, leaves his bike at the edge of the forest, and walks the last few miles to Adri’s kennels.  He sits in the yard patting the dogs, until his other two sisters, Katia and Gaby, also show up.  They kiss their little brother on the top of his head, then their elder sister comes out and slaps him hard on the back of his neck with her open hand and asks if it’s true he called his teacher ‘sweet cheeks.’  He never lies to Adri.  She slaps him on the back of the neck again, then kisses him just as hard and whispers that she loves him and that she’ll never let anything bad happen to him, but that she’ll kill him if she ever hears he’s spoken to a teacher like that again. // The four of them eat breakfast surrounded by dogs, without saying anything much.  They do this once a year, a quiet act of remembrance, always early in the morning so their mother doesn’t find out about it.  She’s never forgiven her husband” (112).  A rather intense scene, poignant with a dash of humor.

Fredrick Backman’s latest novel, Beartown, is exciting but it also examines a family driven to succeed for a wide variety of reasons.  5 stars!

--Chiron, 2/9/18

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