“Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard, It makes demands. Hate is simple. So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that’s easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe – comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy.”
I would’ve never picked up this book had I not enjoyed another book of Backman’s so much. But Beartown couldn’t have been more different from A Man Called Ove; honestly, I wouldn’t have even guessed they were by the same author. That being said, they were both masterfully done. A Man Called Ove made my heart swollen and tender in the best way. Beartown shattered my heart and sharpened the fragments into deadly shrapnel that threatened to rip into those I love. It absolutely wrecked me. And not at all in a healthy, cathartic way. No, I wasn’t myself the entire time I was reading this. I was barely suppressed rage.
“Bitterness can be corrosive. It can rewrite your memories as if it were scrubbing a crime scene clean, until in the end you only remember what suits you of its causes.”
Beartown shows how success can burn your world down around you just as surely as failure can. If winning is more important than anything, it can cost everything.
“Never trust people who don’t have something in their lives that they love beyond all reason.”
I don’t do sports. The closest I get is watching American Ninja Warrior or World of Dance or the gymnastics portions of the Summer Olympics. Sports just never really clicked for me. I don’t get the appeal. Part of this is because I’m the most athletically challenged person I’ve ever met. I had to be taught how to swing and slide and do a plethora of other things that most kids just instinctively know how to do. I found my identity in words and music instead. So I didn’t expect to care about a book about hockey. But I did. I cared so much that it ruined my life for an entire week. Beartown is a small, hard town with nothing going for it but hockey. The sport is all that matters to the town, so when their beloved hockey team is threatened, the town amasses to protect the team. Even if the team is in the wrong.
“What an uncomfortable, terrible source of shame it is for the world that the victim is so often the one left with the most empathy for others.”
I’m not going to talk about the plot or even about particular characters, as I’m not sure I can be objective enough to avoid inadvertently spoiling something for those who haven’t read it. So instead I’ll say that I’m completely blown away by Backman’s deftness when it comes to characterizations. The citizens of Beartown were so varied and believable that I actually had a hard time convincing myself that their story was fictional. As everything came to a head and imploded in on the town, I felt less like an observer and more like an actual resident of the town. I had great difficulty remembering that the events weren’t actually happening to me or someone I knew.
“If you are honest, people may deceive you. Be honest anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfishness. Be kind anyway. All the good you do today will be forgotten by others tomorrow. Do good anyway.”
“What you create, others can destroy. Create anyway. Because in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and anyone else anyway.”
I’ve read countless amazing books, many of which have caused me to feel deeply on behalf of one or multiple characters. I’ve read through tears, or felt my blood pressure skyrocket, or had to force shaking hands to put the book down and walk away until I could remember that it was just a story. But never in my life have I been as emotionally impacted by a book as I was by Beartown. For days I felt like anger and tears were simmering just below my skin, and I couldn’t figure out what I was so upset about. Finally, it hit me; I was upset by the book. I woke up angry and went to bed angry for nearly a week, even if I made myself not pick up the book at all over the course of a day. And I’m not an angry person by nature. Backman created a town and a plot and characters that were so believable that I felt physically sick with rage until I finished their story. It was powerful and viscerally real and the best book I hope to never pick up again. It really wasn’t good for me.
“Religion is something between you and other people; it’s full of interpretations and theories and opinions. But faith . . . that’s just between you and God.”
Something that just blows me away is the fact that this is a translation. Backman is obviously insanely gifted if he can ruin my life for a week through someone else’s translation of his work. I applaud Neil Smith for doing such a tremendous job translating this book into English. Every word choice was purposeful and powerful. The prose was lovely but spare, sucking me deeper into the narrative instead of ever distracting me away from the story to meditate on the words themselves. I honestly don’t think it could have been crafted any better. Because I so desperately want to avoid spoiling this powerhouse of a book for anyone, I’m not going to give trigger warnings. But please be aware that Beartown is a hard book. Make sure you’re in the right place psychologically to handle a certain level of emotional trauma. Had I known, I would’ve still read this book, but I would’ve waited until I wasn’t already raw from a handful of other difficult books. I will absolutely be reading the sequel, but I have to give myself some time to heal first.
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