I was introduced to the work of Fredrik Backman by a surprise delivery of A Man Called Ove from our daughter who had seen a strong resemblance between Ove and her father and thought her parents should read the book. That touched off one of those word-of-mouth promotions that soon had a number of people in my church entranced with Ove, a showing of the movie in fellowship hall, and an ongoing watch among these friendly bookreaders for the next Backman work. Imagine my delight when Net Galley offered his newest novel called Beartown as an ARC and my even greater delight when the publisher accepted my request to read!

My first revelation involved gaining understanding that in some communities ice hockey can rule the public psyche as much as football does here in the South. The beginning of chapter 16 reflects the theme of the book, “Pride in a team can come from a variety of causes. Pride in a place, or a community, or just a single person. We devote ourselves to sports because they remind us of how small we are just as much as they make us bigger.”

To be up front, since I can’t leave out things that bother me, I almost stopped reading about a third of the way through in chapter 17 when there is a series of pointless lesbian jokes. I am offended when any group of people is held up to ridicule since I live with an understanding that people who are in some way different from me are still my fellow travelers on the road of life. I have some understanding that Backman was characterizing the people who were making the offensive jokes, but still.

The real challenge for Beartown arises when the star hockey player rapes a young girl in a drunken after-party. Personal reactions of community members follow – the coaches and fans, the girl’s parents, the perpetrator and victim, their friends, and the outside onlookers. Like A Man Called Ove, the book gets more riveting as it goes along with the reader wondering if anything good can come of this dreadful situation.

I’ll not spoil the ending except to say, I’m glad I didn’t stop at chapter seventeen.