In Beartown, where the people are as "tough as the forest, as hard as the ice," the star player on the beloved hockey team is accused of rape, and the town turns upon itself.
Swedish novelist Backman’s (A Man Called Ove, 2014, etc.) story quickly becomes a rich exploration of the culture of hockey, a sport whose acolytes see it as a violent liturgy on ice. Beartown explodes after rape charges are brought against the talented Kevin, son of privilege and influence, who's nearly untouchable because of his transcendent talent. The victim is Maya, the teenage daughter of the hockey club’s much-admired general manager, Peter, another Beartown golden boy, a hockey star who made it to the NHL. Peter was lured home to bring winning hockey back to Beartown. Now, after years of despair, the local club is on the cusp of a championship, but not without Kevin. Backman is a masterful writer, his characters familiar yet distinct, flawed yet heroic. Despite his love for hockey, where fights are part of the game, Peter hates violence. Kira, his wife, is an attorney with an aggressive, take-no-prisoners demeanor. Minor characters include Sune, "the man who has been coach of Beartown's A-team since Peter was a boy," whom the sponsors now want fired. There are scenes that bring tears, scenes of gut-wrenching despair, and moments of sly humor: the club president’s table manners are so crude "you can’t help wondering if he’s actually misunderstood the whole concept of eating." Like Friday Night Lights, this is about more than youth sports; it's part coming-of-age novel, part study of moral failure, and finally a chronicle of groupthink in which an unlikely hero steps forward to save more than one person from self-destruction.
A thoroughly empathetic examination of the fragile human spirit, Backman’s latest will resonate a long time.