I’ve always thought a good book is one that tugs at you to sit through hours at a stretch until you’re done with it. I’ve read a lot of those. I’ve also read slow books that have been so beautiful, you feel your heart twist along the way. But to read one that shakes your world and makes you feel things that only comes from real heartbreak – that’s great writing.
Perhaps it’s been too long since I read Beartown, but I finished Us Against You and it was even better. That comes as quite a surprise as I raved about Beartown when I was done with it. I’m sitting in my living room, having finished Us Against You and I can’t bring myself to get up and go to sleep. It leaves you with pieces missing from your heart, wanting to live on with the characters, unable to let go.
It’s easy to paint a character who’s undeniably evil, it’s easy to paint a character as good. Revealing the grey area is difficult. And well, more so. But painting just about 30 different characters all having flaws in their good, or all having good in their supposed evil – that’s incredible and Fredrik Backman has managed to do that. Anyone who’s loved a sport would know what it means to have other people love it the same way – like nothing else matters. But when two whole towns care about nothing else but hockey, it’s just too damn hard to describe. But Backman has managed to do that.
From Us Against You’s prequel Beartown, Kevin, a child prodigy raped the general manager’s daughter, Maya. The town backed the boy and condemned Maya as it was an easier choice. Until Kevin’s best friend Benji steps up to defend her. Beartown was a beautiful read – one that’s among the best books I’ve read. It delved into rape culture and how Maya had to get through it, how the town broke down, how everyone lost everything. It safeguards Benji’s secret – that he’s gay and keeps it that way until his secret rips the town apart in Us Against You giving the town a second chance to prove what it stands for. But like I said, Backman writes grey, not black and white. In this era of writing where including rape culture and homophobia has started defining what constitutes a good novel, it’s refreshing to read books by Backman where it’s done justice to. Homophobia and rape culture have been tossed about in the literary world so effortlessly but so incorrectly, a lot of what’s out there is majorly cringe-worthy. But not, Backman. No, he takes us through the aftermath of rape, how Maya never becomes okay, how she loses all normalcy, how regardless, she’s turned into a problem for everyone, how she goes through the motions, how it affects her family, how the effect on her family kills her and how she fights it every day. He takes us through Benji’s life where he doesn’t need them to support his life choices or advocate them, how he only wants to be normal, to be seen as he was, for nothing to change, and despite it all to be a complete person, not the gay hockey pro.
I’m a sucker for bittersweet endings and Fredrik Backman never fails to deliver. Perhaps that’s what leaves you gutted like you’ve lost a piece of yourself that lives on in their stories. I hope the story of Beartown lives on – that Backman writes more.