CW: rape, physical assault, racism, homophobia, substance abuse, suicidal ideation
I’ve wanted to read Beartown for the longest time. Many people I know have read and liked it, but I especially keep thinking of my good friend Lois @My Midnight Musing when I think about the book. She, too, encouraged me to pick it up and it’s not even like I didn’t want to. I really did! I was just also extremely scared. Somehow I just knew that once I would start reading it, this would become one of my all time favourite books and … I was not mistaken, but it was also so incredibly emotional.
“One of the plainest truths about both towns and individuals is that they usually don’t turn into what we tell them to be, but what they are told they are.”
Backman talks about Beartown and makes it seem like it could be in pretty much any country (although it’s set in Sweden). He has a talent in taking this small community in the middle of nowhere that has no other topic than hockey to talk about and make it seem like the most relatable town there is. They are tight-knit yet judgmental, they are proud but also so very hopeful for a better future, they are hard-working to the point of breaking … they are full of shame and guilt.
“Difficult questions, simple answers. What is a community?
It is the sum total of our choices.”
For a town that likes difficult questions and simple answers, I feel like the book gives the reader the exact opposite experience. It asks seemingingly simple questions about sports, community, parenthood, culpability, friendship, family and love. You, for yourself, might even have very clear answers on what those things mean to you, but Backman makes sure you see all the angles. You might not always agree, but it sure will make you think.
There is a relief in finding a character at the beginning of a story, latching on to them and finding out that they truly are the shining light you hoped them to be. In the grand scheme of things, the adults are definitely far worse than the kids/teens, but there were still some incomprehensible choices made all around. With so many disappointments and resentment building towards certain people in this story, I was so appreciative of the ones that did the right thing over and over again, no matter how hard or impossible it seemed. I even developed a certain pride for people as if they were my own children/siblings/loved ones.
“If you are honest, people may deceive you. Be honest anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfishness. Be kind anyway. All the good you do today will be forgotten by others tomorrow. Do good anyway.”
I don’t want to go into detail about what happens in the novel. The foreshadowing, and I am not sure you can really call it that, since it’s so very blatant and in your face, is cruel. Your heart picks up pace every time you turn the page wondering when the inevitable destructive act will take place. Not one moment goes by where you don’t know that happiness is fleeting and soon these lives will crumble to pieces. You are just not certain if they will be able to rebuild it all.
At the end, you might ask yourself if justice was dealt, but things will never be the same for the characters either way. I think our actual real life justice system fails people over and over all the time. People make victims out of predators and treat others less humane depending on their value to the community. It’s heartbreaking in a way you want to do nothing but sob for days, but it’s also realistic. You cannot always sugarcoat reality. We, as humanity, still have so much farther to go and I enjoyed how Backman lit the situations from so many different angles. Although my answer is clear. No, there was no real justice.
Fazit: 5/5 stars! I think this one will stick with me for a long while.