I am not a big fan of Fredrik Backman. Beartown was my second Backman read after “A man Called Owe”. Though a decent feel-good story, I do not fall in the bracket of readers who can commit 10-15 hours to a book just to feel good about something, life perhaps. Most of such feel-good books either go over the top with their preaching where the professed sacrosanct writer pours his lifetime wisdom on pages, the wisdom that he probably gained reading similar wisdom of some other writer who in turn had similar sources. I had a similar opinion about Fredrik Backman after reading “A Man called Owe”. So when Beartown started making appearances in my Goodreads mention, I decided to skip it. With time the 5-star reviews and praises kept on piling which I initially ascribed to readers of those “feel-Good” books. Finally, it popped up as a sportsbook. Now I have not treaded much into the realm of Sports fiction. A little peek into the Beartown official page at Goodreads revealed that the sport involved is Ice Hockey. Some junior hockey players who are considered celebrities in a titular town Beartown, celebrities because they are the only hope in a town whose economy is in shambles due to the death of industry and tourism. It went into my ever-increasing “To Be Read(TBR) list, a list where people add books to be read sometime in the future and forget. Time kept passing, five-star reviews kept on piling, increasing my curiosity.
Thought of trying something new for a change. Let us given some break to Stephen King universe and horror/thriller genres. Having little expectation from this book and not much happening during initial 30-40 pages except for the creation of Beartown world and introduction of characters, finishing the book did not seem tenable to me, multiple times I felt like adding it to my DNF(did not finish) and move to some other genre, I kept treading just out of curiosity, trying to discover the reason for those five-star review. From what I heard about this book it was clear that this book does not belong to the realm of Motivational books, something which seasoned authors use to wrap their average content in. There is no way motivational books can evoke such sort of reviews and response that I constantly came across in my timeline, so I just kept moving, turning those revered pages of Beartown. 10 days later, the day I finished this book, I started reading its sequel. A lesson learned, never prototype a writer’s work based on his other books, at least go for a detailed review even at a cost of spoiling some part.
So what is great about BEARTOWN:
One of the hallmarks of great fiction is how an author pens down those initial pages that orient a reader to a fictional world, introduces the characters therein and hooks the reader, and convinces him to keep turning the pages, that the book is worth the time and effort of reading. This part failing to enthrall makes it an uphill task for readers to continue and can lead to a book ending up in DNF(that dreaded Did Not Finish list) of a reader. The book starts slowly, a good number of pages are dedicated to acquainting a reader to town, the issues therein and characters, relations, loyalties, and the inner demons of different characters. Ice Hockey itself serves as a character here like many others. Being an avid reader of Stephen King and Horror/thriller/suspense fiction lover, I prefer action to start from the word go. For instance take those Stephen King topes, at least 800-900 page books, if they do not hook a reader from the word go, the enthusiasm starts to taper off. For the same reason, “IT” and “The Stand” initial chapters are among the most enthralling and jaw-dropping orientation chapters ever written in my opinion. After completing Beartown, in the hindsight, I feel the orientation chapters serve as the backbone of the story. Various issues discussed here won’t work if you do not connect to the myriad characters, their life, and relations between them. So when the crisis happens, it catches you off-guard, the impact is far more powerful.
One reason why a person reads fiction is to escape their world and associated problems and deep dive into an imaginary world. It is a quintessential feature of any great book to make this world worthy of venturing into. The characters of Beartown are fairly vivid. It is easy to relate to many of them, each representing a slice of one or multiple characteristics you would associate with people around you. The book dedicates a good number of pages to create a world and characters therein, getting rules pertinent to Ice Hockey and building a fever for the game. A reader develops a connection with many characters. So by the time the lightning strikes, the reader is enough immersed in the book to feel like one of the stakeholders. The author successfully manages to pull the reader into the book and pressing him to put himself into the shoes of different characters and look at the events unfolding from their perspective. There is only one side to take unless the reader has a warped mind and once that side is taken, the reader is in for a ride full of injustice, emotions, and vengeance. You root for few characters who face the brunt for standing for justice. The book provides a good medium for Escapism from the real world and into Beartown World where so many contemporary issues are discussed through the events that keep unfolding. The issues discussed are so relevant and so vividly penned down that you can help but put yourself in the shoes of different characters, think from their perspective, take a side, feel their anger, helplessness, ask for vengeance, the reader feels betrayed when some characters are betrayed, the reader wants justice, reader ….. If a book can do this to a reader, a book must be great.
Crisis happens and the world of different characters turns upside down. Why would anyone care for such a crisis written in a fictional world? Unless the writer can pull your collar through his words and force you to care.
Everything looks innocuous during the initial pages. For those who did not read any review, it might appear like some motivational book where a town rises from ruins thanks to a junior Ice Hockey team. Instead, the book goes far beyond Ice-Hockey which is just one of the myriad characters here. It could have been cricket or basketball or any other game without diminishing or altering the effect.
“Everyone has a thousand wishes before a tragedy, but just one afterward.”
When the tragedy finally strikes, the reader is punched in the face. The punches keep dropping during the events that unfold post the crisis and their intensity keeps multiplying as a reader delves deeper into the book. All this is made possible by masterfully crafted orientation chapters that lead to the crisis and taken forward by the unfortunate events that unfold later. A reader becomes a stakeholder post the crisis and has no option to take a stand. Not just for this single incident but many issues afterward.
A crisis happens, things take turn for the worse and go downhill from there. People take sides based on their relations, their greed, their needs, their ethics and mostly considering the side which is more convenient considering what befits their aspirations. What is right hardly makes an impact. Things escalate, the victim is blamed and shamed. Does that ring a bell? The beauty of this book is in making a reader connect the events unfolding with real events that keep unfolding around us, thus taking mini-breaks from Escapism. For the same reason, I compared the book to “To Kill a Mockingbird” (READ HERE). You can fit any issue to one of the myriad events in this book and draw something out of it. Things keep deteriorating and a multitude of things happen that is reminiscent of actual events we come across in newspapers. The characters change, they transform, their lives will never be the same again. This escalation is beautifully captured by Fredrik Backman. I am not delving into what happened at the end. I am abstaining here from spoiling the story for anyone. Better to start from scratch and let this world of Beartown amaze you with its depth and vividness