SPECIAL NOTE: Beartown and Us Against You made such a big impression on me that I’m dedicating a week to them. Check out the other posts here:
Clearly reading Us Against you has thrown this blog for a loop! I’ve been passionately writing about Beartown, Us Against You, and Fredrik Backman himself for the past week. Nonetheless, I’ve found myself struggling to recommend this book to people around me. I’m not sure if they would enjoy the writing style, or if they would enjoy the heartwrenching nature of the story. Maybe they don’t want to read about domestic violence and feel sad and vulnerable — but at the same time maybe they SHOULD.
So to answer my own question, the short answer is – YES. But it’s more complicated than that.
Ready for the long answer?
To address the writing style that I brought up earlier — Backman said that many of his editors told him “you’re not supposed to write exactly what people are thinking.” At first, I’ll admit that the style didn’t work for me, but as the book went on, it made every emotion resonate so much stronger. I was feeling feelings while reading them on the page and the combination was powerful. Recently, I’ve seen so many Instagram reviews saying “how did Backman write exactly what I was thinking?” The people seem to like it!
But more to the meat of the issue — is the content for everyone?
When I met Fredrik Backman, I asked him if he had a favorite book – kind of expecting him to say he couldn’t choose – but he said the Beartown series was the book he was most proud of because so many people told him not to write it.
His editors told him that his audience knew what he wrote — heartwarming stories about curmudgeons — and this this would be way too out there for them. They also told him there would hate mail from the group of people he was criticizing in this book. His response was that maybe his audience should be exposed to these truths.
Backman illustrated the point by saying “Look at me. I’m white, I’m a male, and I’m a pretty big dude. I look like I could play hockey. I look like the group of people I’m criticizing and that’s the only reason I could publish this book. I could have published this book under a female pseudonym and I would have received death threats.” It was so moving to realize how right he was. (And to be clear, he has received hate mail, but no death threats to date)
Aside from the commentary on sports culture and rape, there is an underlying plotline about a gay man and how his community deals with his coming out. Backman talked about this plot line with so much love and during the signing, the man in front of me, who was gay, told Backman that he hadn’t read these books yet, but hearing him talk about them was so important to him. You could feel the sincerity in his words and the impact it had on Backman himself to hear this feedback. It was a really special moment and while my heterosexuality is never something that is attacked, I am also glad this book exists.
I think the perfect way to summarize all these feelings is actually an instagram caption that I read on my friend Molly’s page. She sums it up so well and I whole heartedly agree.
“It leaves me wondering if the obligation to write and read stories that bring (necessary) attention to the epidemic of hate and violence against anyone who doesn’t fit into the mold of the white patriarchy will ever go away. And it makes me sad that the answer to that feels, right now, like a resounding ‘no.'” – @readmollyread
So please PLEASE please read this book ❤