Friday, June 1, 2018

Storms and Longings


Us Against You by Fredrik Backman


Goodreads summarizes Backman’s sequel to his 2017 novel Beartown, saying “After everything that the citizens of Beartown have gone through, they are struck yet another blow when they hear that their beloved local hockey team will soon be disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in Hed, take in that fact.”

All my readers already know that I am addicted to Fredrik Backman’s novels, and there is good reason for that. However, to prove to them that I don’t automatically adore every word that Backman puts on the page, I’m going to start this review by noting the reasons I almost gave this less than five stars. The biggest reason was foreshadowing. Admittedly, this is a personal pet peeve of mine, which to my chagrin, Backman employed many times throughout this book. I must admit that although it bothered me to begin with, each time he did this, I felt slightly less annoyed. This was probably because he only allowed himself a short sentence of foreshadowing each time.


Another pet peeve of mine is tying up a story too nicely at the end, with the futures of the characters laid out with excruciating detail. While Backman did seem to venture into this forbidden territory of mine, he was able to redeem himself while doing this because he referred to these short foreshadowing bits at the end, which turned this into somewhat of an afterward. So, although we find out things about the futures of several characters beyond the end of the story, it's not like we didn't know about them, and since it was done in a delicately telegraphic way, Backman didn't lay the whole of their lives out for us, but just gave us small tastes. So, despite my initial prejudice against this mechanic, I was surprised to see how much this added to the book instead of detracting from it (which is usually the case).

While the combination of these two pet peeves could normally have made me drop half, if not a whole star off my rating of this book, the way Backman used them so carefully and artfully, made me realize that I can mostly ignore them, and in fact, come to appreciate them in this instance. Furthermore, he had me in tears several times as I got closer to finishing this book – and if I recall correctly, more often than I did with any of his other novels. Backman does this by focusing this novel on base (and sometimes baseless) hatred, and all the nasty things people can do to each other, and then bringing in small acts of kindness that one person shows to someone on the “other side.” I’d say that this is what is almost scary about how talented Backman is, that being how he is able to surprise us and dig deeper into our emotions with each novel.

Remember too, that this is a sequel, and although someone who hasn’t read Beartown might still appreciate this novel as a stand-alone, I would highly recommend they read that one first, since I think they won’t totally “get” everything in this book, if they haven’t read the first one. This is mostly because what was obvious from reading that novel was confirmed with this one. That being, that I am certain that Backman fell in love with his Beartown characters so much that he couldn’t leave them hanging, and had to give us something to help us get closure, which this book does in spades.

I’d also like to mention that this novel felt more poetic than his previous works. This doesn’t mean he uses flowery language, but rather that he gives us many small sub-sections of chapters that are just a few words or a couple of sentences, which we ponder upon as we continue reading. Backman also used another interesting mechanic here that I found interesting, which was how he took a quote from the coming chapter and used it as the title of that chapter. In this way, we can see this quote, and then look forward to where that quote appears and thereby understand its significance. I didn’t notice this at first, but I hope that those of you who decide to read this book based on this review will appreciate my pointing this out for you beforehand.

Of course, all this is just to say that I really loved this book. Again, I’m no fan of hockey, but as a life-long Cubs fan, I can certainly understand the heightened emotions that a lover of one sport or another can have. However, as I noted in my review of Beartown (as well as in my review of Britt-Marie Was Here), the sport itself isn’t what’s important here. Rather it is about all the things that go into what loyalty, love, community, and family mean to us, and how they sometimes blind us into making the types of mistakes that can harm any, or all those things. Backman shines a light on our fragility and makes us realize that sometimes we need to feel pain to discover the humanity we have hidden deep inside. While I want to give this book 4.75 stars out of five (taking off a quarter for the things I noted above), I don’t have a ¾ star, so I’ll round it up to five, and warmly recommend this book!




Atria Books will release "Us Against You" by Fredrik Backman on June 5, 2018. This book is available (pre-order) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo eBooks, Kobo audio books, eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books (supporting literacy worldwide) as well as from an IndieBound store near you.