“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.”
― Fredrik Backman, Beartown
Having not read any of Fredrik Backman's previous novels I did not know what to expect with this story. Set in a small Swedish town called Beartown, the story centers around the local juniors' hockey team and their preparation for their semifinal game. The hockey team is the pride of the town, which is otherwise suffering a decline. People are out of work and local businesses are shuttering. The plot involves a small group of people associated with the hockey team and the importance of it to the town. After the team wins the semifinal game there is a terrible event that affects everyone directly or indirectly leading to decisions that must be made by the individuals involved.
Backman focuses on the human experience and provides insights into the difficulties surrounding the individuals' abilities to deal with their feelings. The author captures some of these feelings when he comments:
"All adults have days when we feel completely drained. When we no longer know quite what we spend so much tie fighting for, when reality and everyday worries overwhelm us and we wonder how much longer we're going to be able to carry on."
The author uses the theme of community to demonstrate how an identity based on belonging to a group can have both positive and negative effects. Beartown is a small community that is centered around a successful hockey team. The people of Beartown are very devoted to both the team and the town, but this ultimately causes many to dismiss the importance and impact of the event that interrupts their regular activities.
How each of them carry on is demonstrated in their actions as the novel moves toward a denouement. The conclusion is not necessarily a happy one, but it is portrayed in a true and realistic way. The author did tend to emphasize the points he was trying to make a little too hard, but overall I found the book suspenseful and excellent.