Book Review: BEARTOWN by Fredrik Backman
BEARTOWN by Fredrik Backman is 415 pages of pure genius. Contained in this surgical slice of the human psyche is a story so layered and truthful that it wrenches you in half and leaves you begging for more.
This story is a departure from Backman’s previous work, A Man Name Ove, and two novellas––writing that predominantly centered on quirky characters, jumbled with rich life experiences, and delivered with witty, humorous dialogue. This story is not funny. Far from it, but it shouldn’t be. It is, however, brilliant. Backman takes no prisoners. His characters are real, fallible, and at times, complicated and messy, but always so darn human.
This is a story about a small, sleepy town, nestled deep in a forest––Beartown, where hockey and all who are permitted to touch it, reign supreme. Everyone is expected to play their part, do their do, sacrifice for the club, the team, the community…all in the hope of raising the town’s status and fulfilling the club’s monetary dreams. Meanwhile, the children suffer, unable to always decipher the correct response or action to take. However, no matter what pedestal the team places their teen-star players on, human nature and all its faulty appetites still demand payment, even at the expense of its most prized, young performers.
The author unapologetically exposes the mindset of parents living their failed dreams through their children. He shows what happens to the children, too caught up in the rush of adoration and the fear of replacement, doing whatever necessary to seize a thin slice of the proffered pie. Backman exposes a town dependent on the sport’s promise to bring life back into a mundane community’s existence. Most of all, he brazenly reveals what happens when winning takes precedence over morality, when kindness is seen as weakness, and ruthlessness becomes the only acceptable alternative.
“Keep your mouth shut.”
“It’s none of our business.”
Before closing, there was one gut-wrenching quote in particular about mourning and loneliness that I’d like to share.
“People sometimes say that sorrow is mental, but longing is physical. One is a wound, the other an amputated limb, a weathered petal compared to a snapped stem. Anything that grows closely enough to what it loves will eventually share the same roots. We can talk about loss, we can treat it and give it time, but biology still forces us to live according to certain rules: plants that are split down the middle don’t heal, they die.”
Pass the tissues, please.