I know I am a week behind on this, but…holidays, folks. I’ve been taking a break from the internet and have been spending my time with family, friends, and books.
BTW, speaking of books…this month, I’m burying my nose in the pages of Fredrik Backman’s follow-up to his astounding Beartown. I didn’t do a discussion question post for this book or even a reflection post. Quite honestly, I got pretty behind on everything in December, including reading this book.
What I can say is that Beartown is fucking amazing stuff, people. In some ways, it’s the beautiful character driven story that all of his other novels have been, the kind that blends so beautifully the good and bad that make us messily and perfectly human…the quiet, painful motivations that lead us to act the way that we do and say the things that we do.
What is different about this story is the intensity of the issues explored. I’m going to include a spoiler here, so if you don’t want to the what the “traumatic event” at the center of this novel is, then skip the rest of this post. But, if you are considering reading the novel and have either lost a child or have experienced rape or loss of a loved one to suicide, you should probably approach the novel carefully. The characters of this novel are real, deep, flawed, hurting, and just barely holding shit together under intense (societal and self-induced) pressure. But they are also strong, resilient, and capable of amazing things, including kindness, forgiveness, acceptance, and healing.
At the center of this novel is a family. The father is a hockey player turned hockey club general manager. His wife is a lawyer, clumsily navigating the guilt that sometimes comes with trying to maintain a family and a career. The two lost a child early in their marriage, but now have a 15-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son.
The other important characters include the Beartown Hockey Club’s coaches, administration, sponsors, players (past and present), parents, and fans of the team.
While hockey is the catalyst for the story, the motivation for much of the action, the real centers of the novel are the culture, value-set, and community that we create…how we make sense of the world around us in relation to that…how we include or exclude…how we punish and reward…how we decide right from wrong…and how we define justice.
“Culture is as much about what we encourage as what we permit.”
Aside from that, I’m not saying anything else about the novel. This is one of those books that just has to speak for itself, because anything I could say would pale in comparison to the actual experience of reading Backman’s words and getting to know his characters.
I’m looking forward to the continuation of the story in Us Against You. I expect that the newly infused hockey rivalry between the towns of Beartown and Heg will lead to ongoing and increasing tension between a number of parties. Will Beartown hockey survive?
Join me in finding out…
If you are running a book club or simply want to explore some great discussion questions, there is a discussion guide at the end of the book. My favorite questions from this guide are:
Peter loves hockey because it demands his all, his everything. What does hockey demand from each of the characters in the book? What does it take from them?
Several characters must find the courage to go against the grain of the tight-knit Beartown community. What is at stake for each character who does so, and is it worth it for them in the end?
Consider the importance of names and nicknames throughout the novel. How does the lack of first names for “Kevin’s mother,” “Kevin’s father,” “David’s girlfriend,” and Benji’s “bass player” change your impression of them? What effect does calling Maya “the young woman” have on Maya and her own narrative? How does she start to reclaim her own story?
In the course of the novel, we see that playing on a sports team teaches young people values like loyalty, responsibility, and commitment. But we also see instances of exclusion, aggression, and entitlement. Are there certain behaviors that are rewarded in sports competition but considered inappropriate in daily life? Give examples. Which characters in the book have difficulty navigating this?
Maya is surprised by how easily she can start to lie to her best friend, Ana, and keep secrets from her. How do each character’s secrets affect his or her relationship with loved ones? Consider the secrets between friends (Maya and Ana, Kevin and Benji, Amat and Zach), as well as those between parents and children, husbands and wives.
At the end of the novel, do you think the tradition of Beartown Hockey Club continues? Has its fundamental character changed? How do you think it will change going forward?