Beartown by Fredrik Backman
“Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes much easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.” ― Fredrik Backman, Beartown
This is my fourth book by Fredrik Backman, and I am happy to report it lived up to my high expectations. Though, as is typical with his books, I was initially skeptical I would like it. The book, on its surface, appears to be about a hockey-obsessed little town, and frankly few things interest me less than hockey. I should have known that nothing is quite as it first seems in a Backman novel. Beartown is about hockey, yes, but it's really about community, friendship, family, betrayal, love, disappointment, and so much more. His novels are all vastly multi-dimensional and typically more than a little melancholy, but they also feel very real. They are essentially about normal people and their troubles which can feel so huge and seem so insurmountable, even if, from the outside, they don't appear that big a deal. Backman has a way of exploring what lies beneath the surface of people from all walks of life. Nothing in his books is ever black and white. They are not the easiest reads, because they force you to think and maybe even challenge opinions you once held as given. The cast of characters in Beartown is large, but vivid and beautifully developed. The setting is at times bleak, but chillingly atmospheric. The story moves slowly, then startles with a jolting event, and the tempo changes almost with the quality of a song. Everything in Backman's books seems intentional and well thought out, and at the same time completely inevitable. Big events happen, shocking and troubling, and still they didn't feel forced or overly dramatic. This book, in particular, feels very timely in light of the many emerging stories of sexual assault, though I suppose it always, sadly, was a timely issue. It considers the shame forced on victims of assault, and the horrible reality that they are so often doubted when they find the courage to speak.
Backman's are the types of stories that linger with you, or at least with me, long after I have read them. There aren't that many books that leave a lasting impression when you read well over 100 books a year, so this is saying something.
If I haven't made it clear enough by now, and you re still reading, I really, truly, very much recommend Fredrik Backman's books, Beartown and the others, too.