Review: “Beartown” by Fredrik Backman

Beartown

I have always taken pride in the fact that I’m a pretty fast reader. As a kid, when I used to drag my parents to bookstores, I would often finish a book in the time it took them to buy me more books. A pitfall of my speedy reading is that I sometimes miss the small pleasures that come from the “non-important” parts of the story. Ever since I started blogging, I would like to believe that I have become a more mindful reader. Thankfully, that didn’t manage to put a significant dent in my reading speed. Till I put my hands on Beartown.

Today, I’m participating in my third Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon. My first time around, I stayed up for the entire duration and finished 7 books. The next time, I was overconfident and fell asleep around Hour 4. This time, I was all set with a list of nine books. But 10 hours in, I just finished my first book and I am not feeling the slightest twinge of regret. Because Beartown is so brilliant that I wanted to savor every single sentence of it, competitive reading be damned.

As an author, Fredrik Backman has this talent of crafting an intricate novel about human nature revolving around characters that might otherwise come across as mundane. I read A Man Called Ove before it was a New York Times bestseller and the source material of an Oscar-winning film. The protagonist was this gnarly, antisocial curmudgeon that people went out of their way to avoid. But by the time I finished the book, I was completely in love with him. I mourned the passing of his beloved wife and I cheered when he found a new “family” in an evolving Sweden.

Anybody who reads Beartown will also find themselves rooting for its characters, a hard feat to achieve since the book has over ten protagonists. Mr Backman has surpassed himself because he manages to get the reader to care not just for its characters, but the entire town as well. Of course, this doesn’t mean every single character is likable. But the reader comes away with an in-depth understanding of what motivates every single person in Beartown. Though much darker than Mr Backman’s other works, Beartown is undoubtedly his magnum opus.

Beartown is the story of an isolated Swedish town at the edge of the woods that is slowly but surely dying. The residents believe that there is only way to save their home: a national victory for their local ice hockey team, that will bring much-needed investment  and publicity to revitalize the area.

To that end, the entire community pins their hopes and dreams on Kevin, the star player. But when a rape accusation by one of their own, on the day of their big game, leaves the team floundering, things take a dark and menacing turn. The book is full of scenes that bring a tear to one’s eye, or make the reader scream with outrage or chuckle at Mr Backman’s sharp and darkly comic insights. The events that unfold are told from the perspective of different characters, adding layer upon layer to this maze of a novel.

There is another noteworthy and unusual technique used by Backman: repetition, but not for repetition’s sake. Various phrases, sayings, even sounds, when repeated skillfully offer new, dazzling interpretations at different points in the story. The character that’s speaking at that particular moment or the sequence of events unfolding then and there are what colour these phrases, thus creating a looping narrative that continually draws the readers in and makes them feel the full implications of what’s going on. The narrative continually emboldens the heavy, darker tone of the novel which, while not as light as his previous novels (though none of Mr Backman’s works can truly be considered light), still preserves its basic human-ness and even persevering, uplifting spirit.

Lastly, for me, Beartown was an outstanding story for its shrewd observations on how society deals with rape allegations, especially in the context of sportsmen and teenagers. I wish I could pepper this entire review with the quotes I highlighted while reading the book, but that would result in around half of the book being reproduced here. Beartown is a must-read for anyone who loves a good, smart and yet touching story.

 I was provided an Advance Reading Copy by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: “Sugar Daddy” (Travises #1) by Lisa Kleypas

sugar-daddy

I’ve never written a review of a romance novel I have such mixed feelings about. From what I gather, Lisa Kleypas is a legend in the ‘historical romance’ genre, and this is her first attempt at in the ‘contemporary’ genre so I’m willing to be a little forgiving. But there are several things in this book that made absolutely no sense to me.

When the story begins, Liberty Jones is a shy girl growing up in a trailer park in Welcome, Texas with her mother and the mother’s loser boyfriend. At this point, we’re told that Liberty’s father was Mexican and she has faced some backlash for not resembling her caucasian mother. Her mixed race heritage is brought up repeatedly throughout the book but never dealt with.

Liberty falls for bad boy Hardy Cates, who is driven by his desire to get the hell out of Welcome ASAP, even though he and Liberty have undeniable chemistry. She is heartbroken but her problems multiply thousandfold when her mother suddenly dies in a car accident and leaves her to take care of her 2-year old half-sister, Carrington. Why anyone would name a kid Carrington escapes me, but I’m going to chalk it down to a ‘Texan thing’ like the author has to excuse a lot of erratic behaviour by different people throughout the story.

At some point, I started to wonder why the series was called “Travises” considering nobody named Travis had appeared so far. But then we see Liberty move to Houston after she hustles for a couple of years and becomes a cosmetologist. Working at a top-notch salon, she meets old multimillionaire Churchill Travis, who takes a shine to her. She convinces him to get manicures and they become good friends. All this time, I’m really hoping that they don’t sleep together primarily because I’m still convinced Hardy is the hero of this tale. Liberty says he is The One enough times.

But, wait. Churchill breaks his leg and asks Liberty to become his live-in nurse. That’s when we meet Churchill’s disapproving oldest son, Gage Travis. He is the typical alpha male who charms the damsel by giving her a glimpse of his many, many flaws. He enters the story so late that for a while I was really doubtful if he was the hero. (His name’s not even mentioned in the blurb!) However, sparks fly and now Liberty and Gage enter into a romantic relationship and my dubious HEA seems within grasp.

With some 60-odd pages left in the story, Hardy reappears and Liberty’s reaction to him is so powerful, I am surprised he was not the one she ended up with. But then, there was a painfully bad industrial espionage scene and Liberty sees how Hardy has grown up to be a ruthless money-grubber. So she goes back to Gage, who was having her followed without her knowledge and who pins her down and has sex with her when she tells him that she needs a break from him. That she liked it and he apologized for it afterward, does not take away from the fact that it was rape and Gage is a stalker.

Romance is hands down my favourite genre. But justifying disturbing, violent and abusive behaviour in the name of love is not romantic. Stalking is not romantic. Sex with questionable consent is not romantic. A heartfelt apology after the fact is not a cure-all. I haven’t read any of Lisa Kleypas’ other books so I won’t make it personal, but I’d like to appeal to romance authors out there and say that love is one of the most powerful emotions a human being can experience, but it is meaningless without consent. Please keep that in mind.

The book has many other flaws and some redeeming chapters but since the aforementioned issue is so important, I will not be dealing with the rest in this post. Hopefully, Ms Kleypas’ other books are not this sickening.

P.S. If anyone figures out why, in the name of God, was this book titled Sugar Daddy, please let me know. Thanks.