There are many things that can define a community, but sports will often play a large role in the community’s identity. In Fredrik Backman’s Beartown hockey features centrally in the lives of all who live in the small town.
Beartown is a small community in the forest with a strong tradition of and passion for playing hockey. Carrying much pride in what they’ve accomplished and hope that they can win the semi-finals, the junior boys hockey team have a lot of pressure on their shoulders to protect their town’s name and reputation. After winning the semi-final game, the boys let off some steam at a party hosted by the star player. But during the party, a violent act between takes place, setting into motion a ripple effect that pulls in all members of the town in some fashion, each with their own opinion on the events of the night that marked a change in their formally static lives.
The tension builds naturally and in a manner that is reminiscent of a kettle nearing the boiling point as the darkness and gritty details of events come to light. Flitting through the perspectives of many of the townspeople either directly or tangentally involved, much like a film-making technique, the structure provides a comprehensive depiction of the ripples one action can take throughout a community; however, this same tactic tripped me up a few times as I worked to follow the transitions, which were at least denoted with asterisks. The structure of the narrative was set up in a fashion that reminded me of Shakespeare, when you’re told the ultimate outcome of the story at the very beginning and it develops toward that outcome as the details build. A small, rather insular, town trying to survive against the odds against it resonates across countries and time, conveying a strong, relatable depiction of the struggles and fights people go through to survive.
Overall, I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars.