Beartown is one of those books that will stay with me for a long time. It’s a book about small town communities, mothers, fathers, team spirit, the sort of friends you have when you are fifteen, the love of hockey, and loyalty: to your team, to your family, to your town.
There are few words that are harder to explain than ‘loyalty’. It’s always regarded as a positive characteristic, because a lot of people would say that many of the best things people do for each other occur precisely because of loyalty. The only problem is that many of the very worst things we do to each other occur because of the same thing.
It’s dark and uncomfortable at places, but there’s always a glimmer of hope.
This book was an emotional roller coaster for me. I come from a small town myself, and know all too well how it feels when all eyes are on you and there’s no way to blend in to the faceless crowd.
There are thousands of ways to die in Beartown. Especially on the inside.
It takes great skills to manage such a large cast of characters efficiently, and Fredrik Backman does just that. All their unique voices come through clearly, hitting you in the feels with great precision. Beartown sucks you in, makes you wonder about the same things that occupies many of its inhabitants minds. Can winning a hockey match be more important than people? Even if that hockey is the town’s only chance of survival? Or are they just closed minded to think it is, and there would actually be other ways?
It’s a Friday in early March in Beartown and nothing has happened yet. Everyone is waiting. Tomorrow, the Beartown Ice Hockey Club’s junior team is playing in the semi final of the biggest youth tournament in the country. How important can something like that be? In most places, not so important, of course. But Beartown isn’t most places.
The town’s economy is dwindling, but there are still people who do much better than others. We get a glimpse into the lives of the rich and the poor just the same, and they all have their own struggles. Not even the most privileged ones have an easy time here.
A great deal is expected of anyone who’s been given a lot.
A horrible act is committed, and in its wake personal tragedies unfold. Nobody seems to be untouched by the events one way or another. The small community is divided. We, as readers are right there when the crime is committed, the silent witnesses all the nastiness. Yet, I think, there will still be some among us whose outrage will be entirely misplaced. I often entertain the idea that we, bookish people are gentle souls with open minds and a great sense for right and wrong. The truth is, people are people and some of us will bend the story out of shape, just to support our own ideas and beliefs, no matter how warped they might be.
They are probably people who live secure lives, who are surrounded by people who share their own opinions and only talk to people who reinforce their own worldview.
What can a friendship survive?
Beartown is not about happy endings. This is what I love so much about Scandinavian authors, TV series, and films. They are not afraid of the dark. They embrace it, and make it okay somehow.
This book will make you ask some very uncomfortable questions to yourself.
There are damn few things in life that are harder than admitting to yourself that you’re a hypocrite.
P.S. For us, UK folks, this was published as The Scandal.
Get Beartown on Amazon UK (hardcover).