Overview (No Spoilers):
My wonderful friend Stephanie often makes appearances on my blog through her fantastic book recommendations. This summer we spent a delightful, windy, sunny day at Holland State Park’s beautiful beach. As the waves were too large to dive into, we soaked into the rays while the sandy wind gusts exfoliated our sun warmed skin, and chatting nonstop about life, kids, work, politics, and books. During this conversation, Stephanie highly recommended Beartown as a must read, and despite it being a genre I typically do not find myself drawn to I eagerly added the title to my ever growing to be read list. With Stephanie’s permission I’m sharing her book review below because it captures so many of my lingering complex feelings upon finishing this book that wrecked me over and over again.
“If you only read one book this year, read this one.
I’m embarrassed that I avoided it for so long because I thought it was about hockey. Well, it IS about hockey, but it’s also about parenting, community, loyalty, and the costs of doing the right thing. Backman builds the story slowly and carefully: a rural hockey town in the north woods dying slowly for lack of economic opportunity, a rising junior league hockey team burdened with the hopes and future of the community which so fervently supports them, and a collection of characters struggling to belong. When the star of the team is accused of a heinous crime, each member of the town must decide where they stand, and what the fate of the community will be. Backman’s writing is full of poignant truths about human nature and his writing style is hauntingly beautiful. I wept through much of the second half of the book. This story is the perfect blend of an important topic, a riveting plot, and complex characters. Yes, it’s most certainly about hockey, but it is so much more. Please pick up this book!
P.S. The richness of Backman’s literary language makes this an easy choice for traditional reading, but I also HIGHLY recommend the audio because the reader, Marin Ireland is simply phenomenal.”
Stephanie really nails this review and I have to say that I also enjoyed Ireland’s animated reading of the audiobook. Usually, I find it frustrating when authors allude to future events, ultimately spoiling the surprise of what is to happen, however Backman’s eloquent weaving of ensuing fates instead worked to build suspense to almost unmanageable levels for the reader. Due to clever and blunt foreshadowing, the dread building throughout this read was palpable. Additionally, he achieved astonishing depth in efficient, relatively short interactions that grow and evolve, not only the various characters but the town’s general dynamic and disposition. During this read, I couldn’t help but draw connections to Jon Krakauer’s Missoula, which covers cases of rape in the football fanatic town of the book’s namesake. Both this book and the aforementioned Missoula were emotionally difficult to read but highly valuable with regard to the thought provoking material post read. Especially the last half of this read, I found myself crying multiple times a chapter, which is a testament to the emotions that Backman managed to stoke within the reader. Overall, despite the difficult content, you will not regret picking up Beartown due to Backman’s elegant writing style, which will have the reader tied into emotional knots that will take weeks of pondering to unravel.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
Beartown ended with the comment that of Zach, Benji, Amat, and Bobo, ten years from the ending two turned pro, one is a dad and one is dead. I’d initially made the assumption that Bobo, Amat turned pro, Zach was the dad and Benji was dead. It seemed obvious that Benji had passed due to several leading hints by Backman. The first clue David leaving his father’s watch and a puck on a tombstone in the cemetery. This was significant because the coach had left messages for his wayward player on Benji’s father grave before. I’d just assumed this was the coaches last parting give to Benji at his own grave. After reading other theories from fellow readers I found one I find fits even better. Benji and Amat are the pros. Bobo is the dad since he had been getting too slow to even make the A Team. Zach is the terrible sad death because he already had suicidal tendencies. David had instead left the watch and puck at Benji’s father grave so he got them without David having to face Benji.