March 7, 2018

Bear Town

Since there is no Wednesday Hodgepodge today, I'll fill the space with another book review.

5 out of 5 stars.

I picked up this book about hockey thinking I wouldn't like it. I was wrong on two counts. First, it's not about hockey. There's a lot of hockey going on and a lot of hockey being discussed and hockey's at the center of everything...but hockey isn't the point. Second, not only did I like it, it quickly moved to the status of being one of the best books I've ever read.

Beartown is a small town buried deep in the forest and forgotten by the rest of the world. Like many small towns it has seen better days and is desperate to keep itself alive. Beartown really only has one thing going for it. Hockey.  Its residents eat, sleep, and dream of hockey. Unfortunately, it's been a long time since they've had a winning team at the Beartown Hockey Club, but this year there is hope. 

The junior team is playing in the semi-finals for the national championship. If they win there and can go on to win the championship it will mean new life for the town. A hockey training center would be built, people would send their children to be trained, maybe even move to the town themselves. A new school would be built and every aspect of life in Beartown would be better. To say there is a lot riding on this team and that people are taking it very seriously is an understatement.

Building on that foundation Backman introduces us to a large cast of characters that span every demographic of Beartown: the Club sponsors, the General Manager and his family, the hockey coaches, members of the hockey team, the parents of the players and their siblings, other teenagers in the town, and a few more supporting characters. It's an ambitious task to develop that many characters, to bring each one of them to life so well that the reader is invested in every one of them. Backman does a superb job. 

I don't want to talk of the plot because if you haven't read this book yet, I advise you to pick it up. It is not a feel-good book with a happy ending. The language and dialog is often crude and profanity laced, but that is because the people of Beartown are, themselves, often crude and profane. Don't let that stop you, because you will miss out on one of the most exquisitely crafted novels I've ever picked up. Backman's ability to depict the complexities of human nature is astounding. He closely examines the secret fears and motivations of each character and shows that most people are not completely good or bad, that most can be pushed over the line one way or the other by a choice or circumstance. That one person may become evil without intending to and another may accidentally become a hero.

Beartown is one of those books that will remain on my shelves to be reread (possibly many times) in the future. It deserves to be recognized as a modern classic.


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