We’ve discovered that author Fredrik Backman has a gift for making unlikeable people quite lovable. Remember the curmudgeon, Ove, and the obsessive/compulsive Britt-Marie? Both characters wore their way into our hearts despite their quirks. We were charmed by these characters and their stories.
In Beartown, however, Backman has deviated from (I could also say he has grown away from) his successful formula and given us a novel deep in sociological truths.
Beartown is not a charming story. Beartown is a Scandinavian community that eats, sleeps, and dreams the game of hockey. The wellbeing and future of the town rest entirely on the success or failure of the high school hockey team. The star player, Kevin, is revered, fawned over and pampered. He is the center of the universe around which the rest of the community orbits. Kevin however takes a potentially fatal step when he rapes the teenage daughter of the hockey coach. The resulting tsunami of conflict, division and anger catapults the reader deep into an exploration of loyalty, values, and family.
No question, Backman is a great developer of character. Equally compelling to me is his skilled development of community. In his first three novels, A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, and Britt- Marie Was Here, community gathers around our protagonists, lifts them up and offers them friendship and love. In Beartown, community takes on a whole new depth of meaning – and some of it is pretty ugly.
No, Beartown is not a charming story. It is however, a deep and authentic story of how and who we love. It is a story of despair, desperation, and truth. In the midst of scandal, greed and violence, there is ultimately redemption in this story.
Backman has done it again in a whole new way.
Beartown comes out in hardback on April 25th.
Ariel Levy has written an unflinchingly honest memoir about her life choices and their heartbreaking consequences.
Written in fast-paced, staccato form, the reader is thrown into Ariel’s world – a successful writing career with the New Yorker, a marriage, an affair and a pregnancy. The dire consequences of Ariel’s choices and her unforgiving accountability for them, give the memoir its gritty realism.
Ariel does not bend to societal norms (“rules”) that dictate how she should behave. But her high risk taking behavior, which she does not recognize as such, suggests that the flip side of such freedom is not so pretty. She marries a woman who she loves deeply, craving a stable, domestic life - but then chafes under the constraints and has an affair which unsettles her wife to the point of madness. When the relationship recovers, Ariel and her wife decide to have a child (via in vitro with a friend as the sperm donor). Happily pregnant, Ariel, still fiercely ambitious, flies to Mongolia to conduct research for an article she is writing. The resulting crisis is the crucial turning point of the book.
Is Ariel the hero in her own story? She allows herself no redemption, no glory in the path she has walked. But, for the reader, her accountability for her actions and her resilience in the face of crisis, may suggest otherwise.
In 1999, close to the Ojibwe reservation in northern North Dakota, two families, neighbors, one white, one Native American, have been friends for years: the Ravich's and the Iron's. The men married half-sisters. They help each other. But Landreaux Iron accidently shoots and kills Pete Ravich's five-year old son, Dusty, while hunting.
How does either family go on after such a catastrophe? How do they not implode under the weight of grief, guilt and rage? Those questions form the heart of the novel.
Landreaux and his wife recall their Ojibwe traditions, and in an impossible, perfect, fraught action, give their five-year old son, Larose, to the Ravich's to raise as their own -- a life for a life.
LaRose is the latest in a line of LaRose's, and a mysterious boy who has the gift of second sight and of seeing the dead, the same gifts as his antecedents. Erdrich weaves into the narrative a wholly convincing magic realism, an Ojibwe version.
She creates an integrated community made up of sisters on a high school volleyball team; a priest, an ex-Marine and survivor of the Beirut barracks bombing; brazen, elderly Ojibwe women in a nursing home, and Romeo, an addict and a damaged man whose desire for revenge brings the plot to its climax. But it is LaRose at the center of it all, a boy of resourcefulness and courage, who has a intuitive understanding of his role as the link between families: he is the one who is to be loved.
At the end, the dead gather with the living at a celebration, and LaRose listens to their song:
"We love you, Don't cry, Sorrow eats time, Be patient, Time eats sorrow."
We also hear the song, of course, invited into knowledge by Larose's talent, and invited into the peculiar power of some novels to also change us and make us better.
LaRose comes out in paperback April 11th!
Staff of Wellington Square Book Shop