Well, this is a wrap, folks, for Fredrik Backman’s Us Against You, and it’s been an amazing reading journey. What a way to ring in my 2019 Reading Challenge…two of the best books I’ve read in a long damn time.
Much like Beartown, one of the central topics of this novel is parenting…and just how damned hard it is because we can’t really protect our kids or determine how they are going to turn out. We hang on to them too tightly for not tightly enough, and sometimes, by the time we have time for them, they no longer have time for us.
Men are busy, but boys don’t stop growing. Sons want their fathers’ attention until the precise moment when fathers’ want their sons’. From then on, we’re all doomed to wish that we’d fallen asleep beside them more often, while their head could still fit on our chest.
They also tend to see truths we think we are hiding from them.
Children notice when their parents lose each other in the smallest ways, in something as insignificant as a single word, such as “your.” Maya texts them each morning now and pretends it’s to stop them worrying about her, even though it’s actually the reverse. She’s used to them calling each other “Mom” and “Dad.” … But suddenly one day, almost incidentally, one of them writes, “Can’t you call your mom, she worries so much when you’re not home?” And the other writes, “Remember, your dad and I love you more than anything.” Four letters can reveal the end of a marriage. “Your.” As if they didn’t belong to each other anymore.
As you can tell, another main topic is marriage. Two of the main characters, Peter (the Beartown Hockey Club’s general manager) and Kira, his lawyer wife, are having a (spoiler alert) really difficult time dealing with their daughter’s rape. Their marriage is suffering because of it (and because of several other things) and there are some amazing passages relating to it:
It’s impossible to measure love, but that doesn’t stop us coming up with new ways to try. One of the simplest is space: How much space am I prepared to give the person that you are so that you can become the person you want to become?
This novel also deals with politics, power, and leadership.
People say that leadership is about making difficult decisions, unpalatable and unpopular decisions. “Do your job,” leaders are constantly being told. The impossible part of the job is, of course, that a leader can carry on leading only as long as someone follows him, and people’s reactions to leadership are always the same: if a decision of yours benefits me, you’re fair, and if the same decision harms me, you’re a tyrant. The truth about most people is as simple as it is unbearable: we rarely want what is best for everyone; we mostly want what’s best for ourselves.
This story is about healing from a rape, navigating high school, becoming and being an adult, finding and keeping love, acceptance, healing, forgiveness, fighting for what’s right, and unspoken truths. It’s about a small town with big values, and big people with small minds. It’s about survival and friendship and moving on.
The complicated thing about good and bad people is that most us can be both at the same time.
It’s a complex story and simple story at the same time…in a town like the ones we live in…with people like the ones we live near and work with.
Deep down insides most of us would like all stories to be simple, because we want real life to be like that, too. But communities are like ice, not water. They don’t suddenly flow in new directions because you ask them to, they change inch by inch, like glaciers. Sometimes they don’t move at all.
I left this book just like I left Beartown…it was a bittersweet ending. I loved the characters so much, I didn’t want to leave them, but I knew it was time for them to move on. I took a tissue to my tears and closed the book, feeling satisfied and hopeful.
Humanity isn’t good or bad. It’s both. And I love an author who can make me love and understand all of his characters (well…accept for Richard Theo…he’s just an asshat politician).
Another 5-star read…and the bar is set high for 2019.
(For Reading Group Discussion Questions…click HERE.)