Look, I still really like Backman’s writing, as I’ve noted in my reviews of the previous books. But if I had to summarize my feelings on this book, it’s “schtick has run its course.” spoilers for the previous two installments!
Here we return once more to Beartown and Hed, two towns alike in dignity in fair northern Sweden where we lay our scene. We’ve already had ancient grudge break and new mutiny, and blood has already been spilt over the hockeyball that seems to define all adults in this area. This time around, the foreshadowing is even more dire: someone is dying, and you’re pretty sure who it’ll be and it’s going to be devastating.
Every stake is higher, the world is more strained at the seams since Backman last visited this region, and so the decision to keep the framework and structure of it all the same starts to seem a bit weak. How many times can Kira shake her head at Peter’s mindless (slavish) devotion to the hockey team? How many times can Maya and Ana drift apart and then re-find their connection to one another? Who else can start straying towards violence and despair (well this one is easy: the answer is almost everyone except for Saint Peter, who’s going to be caught in a web of his own making)?
A rape hasn’t done it, an accidental death hasn’t done it, so there’s a sad sense that even this, a vaguely pre-meditated manslaughter (in that the incitement to violence is clearly laid out, not that someone came with the intention of murder), won’t do enough to change the fundamental nature of these two towns. That being said—as I write this, I’m wondering if the shock of gun violence in this part of the world is something that I as an American don’t understand? That someone dies from a gunshot is a…depressingly normal occurrence, but of course that’s only my narrow lens.
I really do hope that this is the end of Beartown. I want everyone in the town to finally relax and chill out and stop getting so worked up over a sport that is the glorification of violence played out by underage children, and I want Backman to write about something softer and kinder and more hopeful. The world could use it