Saturday, November 4, 2017

A New Christmas Carol

The Deal of a Lifetime: A Novella by Fredrik Backman


The protagonist of this novella is a father who is wealthy, successful and famous. He also has cancer, but so does the adorable five-year-old girl he meets in the hospital. Both of them are going to die eventually. The question is, does it really matter when, how or even why they die? That, together with the question of what differences the choices we make have on our lives, is the essence of Backman’s latest work. (Dear Amazon and/or Atria Books: this is how you write a concise summary of such a brief work of poetic prose, and not the four paragraphs describing half the story, which I found on Amazon.)

In the introduction to this novella, Backman writes “Every day, everywhere, we go down one road or another. We play around; we stay at home; we fall in love and fall asleep right next to each other. We discover we need someone to sweep us off our feet to realize what time really is. So I tried to tell a story about that.” Backman also adds, “Maybe you will find this to be a strange story, I don’t know. It’s not very long, so at least it will be over quickly in that case.” Of course, reading a short work by Backman can be disheartening, simply because I never want to stop reading whatever he writes. Despite that, I understood fully why this story was so short, and why its ending was absolutely perfectly timed.

More importantly, what Backman gives us here is a type of fairy-tale, or if you will, a new Christmas Carol for the 21st century. Our unnamed protagonist is not a nice person – much like Scrooge – who cares more about money than he does about people. In fact, it took him several days to discover that his wife had left him, taking their son with her. This tidbit about the protagonist is exactly the way in which Backman shows the reader what kind of man this is, together with his own admissions of guilt. However, with this callousness, Backman gives us this man’s first-person account of his interactions with this sweet, dying little girl, and his spying on his son, happily working at his bar-tending job. Backman counters these solidly credible connections to this man’s life with an aspect of magical-reality from this mysterious woman with a folder, hence the “Christmas Carol” feeling.

Where this novella seems to depart from his other works, is that here Backman’s prose sounds like this man was speaking directly to his son, and in that, he makes all of his readers into this character. Because this man has never been a good father, and more importantly, isn’t a caring person in general, using this method, Backman succeeds in gaining some level of sympathy for this protagonist, and not just because we know he has an incurable case of cancer, just like the little girl (who we adore at the outset). Of course, Backman has always known how to make us fall in love with less-than-lovable characters, but this man never becomes truly lovable. Instead, Backman only makes us feel somewhat sorry for him. Furthermore, although we still don’t like him very much, when this story ends, we certainly feel better about him, and almost proud of what he does. I’m pretty sure that this was Backman’s intention. Mind you, these conflicting feelings also meant that, for the first time, I didn’t cry while reading a Backman book. On the other hand, after I read the last paragraph, I did sit there stunned for a good five minutes, while the words “oh, wow” went through my head. (Yes, Backman has done it again!)

However, I did have two gripes with this book. The first, as mentioned above, was the blurb I found on Amazon, which is far too detailed for my liking. Hello! This is a work by Fredrik Backman, people! He’s already got a huge following; you don’t need to give so much away. I promise you, it will sell even if all you say is “Fredrik Backman’s newest work is a thought-provoking novella about love, death, choices and consequences”! My other problem was that they sold the Kindle file of this book together with an excerpt from “Beartown” and lots and lots of promos of all Backman’s other books. With all these additions, the novella itself ended at just past the 50% mark of the file! I suspect they did it just to fool people like me into thinking we had more Backman to read. Although this did tick me off somewhat, it didn’t really distract from the novella itself, and I cannot give it less than a full five out of five stars (surprise, surprise - NOT!).



Atria Books released "The Deal of a Lifetime: A Novella" by Fredrik Backman on October 31, 2017. This book is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), Kobo audio books (USA, Canada & Australia), eBooks, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you.

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