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Beartown: A Novel Hardcover – April 25, 2017
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
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An Amazon Best Book of April 2017: How do I love Beartown? Let me count the ways. It’s a domestic drama in which a family is pulled apart by an act of violence. It’s a coming-of-age story for a young woman who must choose to speak out or keep silent. (And a young man, too, actually.) It’s a slow-build thriller, opening the story with the statement that one teenager is going to put a shotgun to the head of another and pull the trigger. It’s a cautionary tale of small-town thinking…yet at the same time celebrates how a handful of people can change a tight-knit community. Beartown has so much going on within its enjoyably readable pages that putting it in a literary box is all but impossible—and indeed that is one of the many reasons readers will pass this book amongst one another with a confident “I think you’ll like this.” As the town’s finances decline, small, scrappy Beartown hunkers deeper into itself, proud only of its white-hot junior hockey team led by a coach whose hard-driving mantra is, simply, “Win.” Seizing the upcoming hockey championship could lure a new hockey academy their way and jumpstart the local economy. But the exposure of a hidden crime sweeps the hockey club into its vortex and fractures the town and longtime friendships, even as it welds together new, unlikely alliances. Once the crime is revealed, Beartown could have strolled down an easy trail, but Backman refuses to tread it, sidestepping the predictable as he forges a new path of soul-searching and truth-telling. There are hard moments here, and readers might find difficult discoveries in their own hearts as the people of Beartown struggle with what they hope is real but fear is not. Masterful in its storytelling and honesty, this is another winner for Backman, surpassing even his much-lauded A Man Called Ove. —Adrian Liang, The Amazon Book Review
PRAISE FOR BEARTOWN
“Backman is a masterful writer, his characters familiar yet distinct, flawed yet heroic. . . There are scenes that bring tears, scenes of gut-wrenching despair, and moments of sly humor. . .Like Friday Night Lights, this is about more than youth sports; it's part coming-of-age novel, part study of moral failure, and finally a chronicle of groupthink in which an unlikely hero steps forward to save more than one person from self-destruction. A thoroughly empathetic examination of the fragile human spirit, Backman's latest will resonate a long time.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“[It's] Backman’s rich characters that steal the show, and his deft handling of tragedy and its effects on an insular town. While the story is dark at times, love, sacrifice, and the bonds of friendship and family shine through ultimately offering hope and even redemption.” (Publishers Weekly)
"Another solid offering from best-selling Swedish author Backman, with many parallels for American readers and small towns everywhere." (Library Journal)
"The sentimentally savvy Backman (A Man Called Ove, 2014) takes a sobering and solemn look at the ways alienation and acceptance, ethics and emotions nearly destroy a small town and young people." (Booklist)
"[A] slow burn of a novel about a community that pours all its hopes into a youth hockey team. Think Friday Night Lights for Swedes." (O, The Oprah Magazine)
"As popular Swedish exports go, Backman is up there with Abba and Stieg Larssson." (The New York Times Book Review)
"Backman is the Dickens of our age, and though you'll cry, your heart is safe in his hands." (Green Valley News (Arizona))
“There are, in the end, real acts of bravery and sacrifice in this appealing novel.” (Wall Street Journal)
“Mr. Backman cements his standing as a writer of astonishing depth and proves that he also has very broad range plus the remarkable ability to make you understand the feelings of each of a dozen different characters. . . . The story is fully packed with wise insights into the human experience causing characters and readers to ponder life’s great question of who we are, what we hope to be and how we should lead our lives.” (The Washington Times)
“This novel was well worth reading, and I embrace what I learned from it.” (The Missourian)
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I rolled my eyes at the hockey town theme for about 50 pages and then got lost in Beartown. This book is not really about hockey, but about a crumbling town far from anywhere that has nothing but hockey and the people who are in it. The residents of Beartown have known each other forever. The happenings and how the personalities bounce off each other in such human ways (hatefully and lovingly) makes this a fascinating and unforgettable book.
This book is not at all like the Ove book except that it is written by a genius of human understanding.
I read it in one sitting, for it reads like a thriller, even though it's all flashback. Backman's previous books have been wise and funny and a little tragic, but this is a masterpiece. It centers on a small town seeking glory from its hockey club. I know these kids and these families and so will you. You'll recognize "how we got here", too. Backman brings to life their hopes and dreams, frustrations and difficulties--adults and teens alike. "Beartown" should be read and discussed in every high school; it's topical and yet these events have happened for centuries. It takes place in Sweden, but could be any small town in America, too. In sports and life what we hope our children learn is to make good choices in a very un-ideal world. Fiction is a way to enter into an age-old discussion framed so beautifully by one of the characters: "This town doesn't always know the difference between right and wrong...but we know the difference between good and evil." What is the right thing to do when things go very wrong? You'll be compelled to find your answer. Backman is the Dickens of our age, and though you'll cry, your heart is safe in his hands.
I also do not like stories about fictional crimes. I retired from a career as a criminal defense lawyer with more than one hundred jury trials to my credit most of which were murder cases. Fictional crimes frequently read as silly nonsense to me. Real crime is ugly, stupid, and frequently violent and not the thing you'd make polite conversation about let alone an entertainment. This book is about a serious fictional crime.
There you have two reasons why I should not like this book but I'm giving it 4 stars. I'd give it 5 stars but it disappoints me for another reason. I discovered this author a little over 2 years ago when my wife insisted I read his book "A Man Called Ove". I did as my wife asked....reluctantly, but I loved that book and became a fan of the author. I have since read all of his subsequent books and marveled at his artistry and storytelling ability. Alas, in this book that storytelling talent seems to be a bit lacking as the plot of this book is almost cliche and therein lays my disappointment. The plot involves a youth hockey team in a dying small backwoods town. The town's sole remnant of pride rests in this team and they have just won the big game and are on the way to the national finals. A win means a resurrection for the town and economic gains. During a post-game celebration a crime is committed involving a star player of the team. Up until this point we have all seen or read this story before. It usually involves a small rust-belt town in the North or a dried-up town in Texas and the sport is usually football. Totally predictable, but wait. We have Fredrik Backman as the author of this "cliche" and this isn't like him, at least not as far as I've read so far. Am I going to have to give this book a low rating and a bad review?
After the crime is committed is when the meat of the story and Backman's talent take off. From this point the author dissects this town, its organizations, its values, its motivations, its residents, their relationships, their values, their vices and their virtues. Never have I read such a magnificent portrayal of human behavior in all its imperfections. Backman's observations of the human condition are remarkably accurate and laid bare for everyone to see. I have dealt with countless behavioral scientists in my professional life and none of them were ever able to describe human behavior as well as this author has done in this book. A stunning achievement and a book that deserves to be read. (less)