It’s Grreeaattt: Fredrik Backman’s “Beartown”

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The first page of Fredrik Backman’s “Beartown”  begins with a sharp bang, like a puck being slapped: “Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead, and pulled the trigger. This is the story of how we got there.”

Wow. However, do not be fooled.

At first glance, one may think the novel “Beartown” is solely about the game of hockey and a scrappy team that plays it. But the pulsating feeling that “Beartown” creates does not just come from reading about the team’s hockey games. No, it also comes from the shock of witnessing the happenings of the poor, small town. This novel is neither just a “whodunit” mystery nor a sports tale. It’s a bit of both and then a lot more.  

While Backman centers the story around the junior-level hockey team and the upper management at the ice rink where the team practices, he really uses it as a microcosm for the rest of Beartown and the community’s hopes and beliefs.

See, Beartown is incredibly rough, raw and, most importantly, poor, but if the junior team wins the national tournament, then a hockey training school will open and more businesses will follow suit. The town relies on the team. That’s immense pressure.  

You learn about the General Manager, his family, the star hockey player, the loyal friend, the scrappy underdog, the bully, the teenage girl with dreams and her friend who tries too hard. These characters become so engrossing that the first page’s hook almost falls to the wayside, but then you get there…to the part that literally changes everything.

But there are no spoilers here.

Aside from the engrossing plot, the writing and structure in the novel itself is both astonishing and revealing. The repeated use of “bang” adds an alertness to this novel.” Bang” is used for the hockey pucks being slapped to display the intensity of the team;it also signals important moments and character growth throughout the book.

The novel also sometimes jumps forward into the future which allows the reader to better understand a character’s emotions and feelings surrounding a particular events. This technique is particularly powerful at the end of the novel after the reveal of the two people’s identities in the forest.

“Beartown” delivers a strong storyline that will keep its readers engrossed. The sequel, “Us Against You,” is out now too, and you can find both books at Roy O. West.