Hear that? It’s me, growling. And I’m not growling because I want to be from Beartown.
I’m so angry right now that I want to SPIT NICKELS.
I’ve required reading therapy with Hoarder Penny because of this book. And I want to be clear. I don’t want to give it 5 stars. I don’t. I want to flunk it. Why? Because this book made me seethe with anger. The more I listened, the more sheer fury would envelop my mood. I would exit the car and slam my door. I would stomp to my house, cursing that this book is a startling departure from Backman’s previous works, and that I didn’t know WHAT got into him. I would complain that this book was the antithesis to A Man Called Ove or Britt-Marie Was Here. Where was Backman’s typical charm? Where was the wit? Here I was, ready to hunker down with another Backman treasure, and I wound up trying to crawl inside the story so I could scream at an entire town. I’m still furious.
Here’s the thing about Beartown. It was supposed to make me uncomfortable. It was supposed to raise my blood pressure. It was supposed to make me sick with outrage because of the terrible injustice of it all. Because what happened in Beartown happens all the time. All. The. Time.
SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT
THE BOOK’S DESCRIPTION MENTIONS A “VIOLENT ACT.” STOP READING HERE IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW WHAT THAT IS.
Beartown is a small town that lives and breathes hockey. Only hockey. Your worth is measured by how well you play, or how loudly you cheer. The success of the town, and its people, hinges on the success of their junior ice hockey team. Kids aspire to play. Adults aspire to parent future NHL stars. They’ll stop at nothing to keep their dream alive. Nothing. They’ll even turn a blind eye to rape.
I won’t say who rapes whom. What I will say is that the second half of the novel deals with the aftermath of this act. And while the development of the story seems beyond comprehension, I suddenly understand it. Backman wanted to piss me off. He wanted to pick the misogynist scab that questions the victim instead of the rapist. In a society that lets sub-human creatures like Brock Turner go with a slap on the wrist, Beartown sheds an uncomfortable light on a repeated injustice that walks all over women all over the world. There’s now an entire movement that deals with this kind of hypocrisy – perhaps you’ve heard of #metoo?
This book examines the dynamics of injustice. By the time the crime has been committed, you’re so involved in the characters’ lives that you feel as though you personally know everyone in the story. The character development is meticulous for a reason. Backman wants us to know, really know, everyone in this story. This strategy is cunning. It also makes the novel all-consuming. But I will warn you that if you absolutely have to have justice at the end of a novel, then Beartown isn’t your best choice.
I would be remiss if I didn’t note that there were many moments of kindness throughout this novel. There is compassion. There is understanding. Most importantly, there is love. The book isn’t devoid of these lifelines; it just feels as though they’re not enough. There are characters in this book that are so real, so raw, that you’ll want to hug them with all your heart. Benji is one of them. So is Maya. And Sune. There are wonderful people in this book. The trick is to see their goodness through the gloom of an atrocity.
All I’m going to say about the novel’s end is that while it’s not just, it is remarkably poetic. It also sets up Backman’s sequel perfectly, which is due for release on June 8, 2018:
I’ll be first in line. Because while Beartown made me angry, it also made me desperate to know what happens next.
This audiobook was narrated by Marin Ireland, and she was terrific. Her frustration exploded through the speakers in my car. This book has an incredibly long list of characters, but by the end, I knew exactly which one she was narrating just by her tone. Well done.
5 stars for Beartown. Begrudging ones.