Tuesday, October 24, 2017

"Beartown" by Fredrik Backman

FTC Disclosure: I received an eARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. I checked out the audiobook from my library through Overdrive.

Fredrik Backman's signature blend of humor, charm, and heartfelt portrayals of close, life-shaping relationships is right up my alley. His novella brought me to tears, and his novels have warmed my heart. His most recent novel, "Beartown," has a different tone, but was deeply affecting nonetheless.

In "Beartown," we meet a small town whose very heart is its hockey team. Indeed, at this point, the town doens't have much else going for it, with jobs dwindling and people moving away. Backman presents a large cast of characters, all of whom are connected to the town's junior hockey team: players, classmates, coaches, parents, ardent fans. The team is headed to the national championship playoffs when its star player is pulled due to a horrific act he commits at a victory party.

The town is rocked by the allegations and Backman has characters on all sides. He portrays these characters with empathy without excusing the reprehensible acts of some. Right and wrong are clear, as are the paths that lead characters to their decisions and actions. Readers feel deeply for them, and never more so than when two sides of the same relationship are shown.

This novel lacks Backman's humor that lightened the heavy subject matter n ""My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry" and "Britt-Marie Was Here" (thugh readers of the latter will recognize a tiny bit of overlap). This more somber tone fits "Beartown"'s serious central themes, and the novel does not suffer for it. Rather, it rises to the occaision, having a deeper impact on the reader for its sincere, serious portrayal of this town and its community members at a time of crisis.

Verdict: Affirmed. For both fans of Backman and those who couldn't connect with the humor in his previous novels, "Beartown" is an excellent novel.

"Beartown" by Fredrik Backman, translated by Neil Smith, published by Simon & Schuster on April 25, 2017. Audio narration by Marin Ireland, published by Simon & Schuster Audio on April 25, 2017.

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