“Bears shit in the woods and everyone else shits on Beartown.”
Fredrik Backman is one of my favorite modern authors. There’s an increasingly small number of his works that I haven’t read. My Backman journey began in March 2017 with A Man Called Ove. Eleven months later, I saw Backman’s newest book, Beartown, was available on Audible and, without knowing a single thing about it, I purchased it and began listening…
“Everyone has a thousand wishes before a tragedy, but just one afterward.”
For those who are unaware of this fact, Beartown is about a girl who was raped and the ripple following this tragedy. Because of this, there are a few incredibly intense, somewhat graphic scenes. The audiobook may also magnify the intensity of these elements. Nevertheless, if you can make it through these, there is a treasure worth seeking. Backman has a sharper, clearer perspective on life and the way a community of people functions together in the wake of controversial tragedy than anyone I have ever read.
“What is a community? It is the sum total of our choices.”
Beartown feels real. Painfully real. As someone who grew up in a small town, some of the “mob scenes”, so to speak, were incredibly relatable. Morality becomes vague in the surge of consensus and conflicting interests. What was formerly black and white becomes grey. A cliff becomes a slope. Oftentimes, it is the loudest, most determined voice that prevails. Backman observes moral decline and offers a powerful commentary on society. It is his “state of the union” address to the whole world and it has the power to shatter you.
“Loneliness is an invisible ailment.”
Unfortunately, Beartown would have been better left standing solo. Its follow-up novel, Us Against You lacked much of the reality and poignance that made Beartown so magnificent. Perhaps Backman felt as though he had unfinished business in Beartown. The story leaves one with a partially resolved unease, so I can see why this would be his feelings. In Beartown, Backman simply seems content to offer his thoughts on humanity and the various dynamics of a community. In Us Against You, however, he seems compelled to offer hope, closure, and comfort to both reader and characters. I would not discourage reading Us Against You, as it did have some merit on its own. I just caution you to not expect the quality brought to us in Beartown.
If you have wondered what makes a person, a family, a community shatter…if you have wondered how to pick up broken pieces without knowing when or how they broke…then Beartown may offer some comfort (or, sadly, familiarity) to you.
It is a story that will challenge the way you think and act. It will, if you let it, impact the way you live today, tomorrow, and forever.
“We stand tall if you stand tall.”