From the author of My Name is One. A novel about an isolated and decaying Swedish town whose inhabitants desperately want their youth hockey team to win the championship, believing it will be a path to economic revival. When the star player is accused of sexual assaulting the general manager's teenage daughter, the town must grapple with its conscience.
Within the guise of a sports novel, Beartown quickly turns dark as Backman exposes the one-track hearts and minds of some of Beartown’s residents ... Current fiction may have no more courageous young female character than Maya, who faces hate and threats after she comes forward about the rape. Backman writes a gritty, heart-stopping account of the sexual assault after which the novel then pivots into even more ominous territory as the town turns on her and her family ... Don’t expect absolute justice in Beartown, but prepare to be uplifted.
Given a smooth and pithy translation by Neil Smith, Beartown shuttles among a wide cast of local zealots, from driven teenage athletes to antacid-popping coaches to mucky-mucks on the club’s board of directors ... The obsession with winning is responsible for the novel’s thrills—in the fashion of underdog sports dramas, the games tend to be decided by last-minute goals—but also for its abrupt and tragic turn. At a drunken house party after a victory, Kevin sexually assaults Maya. The he-said-she-said nature of the crime divides the town, and Mr. Backman charts the struggle many have in elevating loyalties to friends and family over those to the team. There are, in the end, real acts of bravery and sacrifice in this appealing novel, but they mostly take place off the ice.
Backman carefully sets up the events leading to the sexual assault so it is a constellation of the racism and classism and sexism of the community, an effective dramatization of the novel’s themes. Though its story is undeniably powerful, little about Beartown is subtle: Backman prefers the hammer over the scalpel ... If the opposite of this muscle flexing would be a book with too little emotional content, we should be glad Backman has chosen this side of the bargain. When he turns his talents to unusual subjects, such as a teammate who is secretly gay or the repercussions of trauma, then Beartown rises above its melodramatic tendencies and shines, turning its narrative swagger into an asset. Backman is a canny manipulator of sentiments, and Beartown has all the pleasures of a rainy-day matinee.