Trigger Warning: sexual assault
I do not know much about hockey, I live in Texas and while Dallas has an NHL team the whole sport tends to fly under my radar, but you don’t need to know anything about hockey to be enraptured by Beartown. Saying I “enjoyed” Beartown doesn’t seem right, it isn’t a particularly enjoyable story, but like A Man Called Ove Backman delivers a very sad but beautiful story this time about life in a small Swedish town whose entire focus is on their youth hockey team.
I’ve been sitting with this book for over a week not sure how to get this review out so I will most likely not do it justice but I wholeheartedly recommend Beartown even if I can’t properly get out why.
The Beartown Bears’ junior hockey team is on the brink of bringing the sleepy forest town back to life- they just need to win their two final games to bring a new hockey training center to their town. Backman focuses on many of the townspeople, their relationship to hockey and the importance of hockey to their town’s survival. There is Peter, the former Beartown hockey star turned GM, his wife Kira and their two children Leo and Mya; David, the junior team coach whose win will give him the A team coaching position; there are several the junior players including star players Kevin and Benj; Amat who plays on the boys team but wows David right before the semifinals and probably a dozen more characters whose point of view is explored during the events of the novel.
“We love winners, even though they’re very rarely particularly likeable people. They’re almost always obsessive and selfish and inconsiderate. That doesn’t matter. We forgive them. We like them while they’re winning.”
Beartown is slow moving; it takes a while to get to the “point” of the story but the slow burn of Backman’s writing pays off in spades because this is a beautifully written novel. As with many books that cover numerous points of view there is a lot going on in Beartown but the primary focus of the story is the sexual assault of Mya and how it connects to hockey and the town as a whole. The reaction to Mya’s rape is infuriating but somehow feels more realistic than other books I’ve read that focus on the same sinister scenario. Backman effectively explores the toxic masculinity of small towns and sports teams; he also writes adolescence well. I don’t know if I would call the conclusion satisfying but there is a sequel and I am interested in checking it out if only to spend a little bit more time with Benji and Amat, the stand out characters in a novel with a bloated cast.