Review of The Winners by Fredrik Backman

I intended to have this review to you yesterday but was suffering from a book hangover, which I thought was just a made up thing until I finished The Winners after bingeing on it for four days.

Blurb: Over the course of two weeks, everything in Beartown will change.

Maya Andersson and Benji Ovich, two young people who left in search of a life far from the forest town, come home and joyfully reunite with their closest childhood friends. There is a new sense of optimism and purpose in the town, embodied in the impressive new ice rink that has been built down by the lake.

Two years have passed since the events that no one wants to think about. Everyone has tried to move on, but there’s something about this place that prevents it. The destruction caused by a ferocious late-summer storm reignites the old rivalry between Beartown and the neighboring town of Hed, a rivalry which has always been fought through their ice hockey teams.

Maya’s parents, Peter and Kira, are caught up in an investigation of the hockey club’s murky finances, and Amat—once the star of the Beartown team—has lost his way after an injury and a failed attempt to get drafted into the NHL. Simmering tensions between the two towns turn into acts of intimidation and then violence. All the while, a fourteen-year-old boy grows increasingly alienated from this hockey-obsessed community and is determined to take revenge on the people he holds responsible for his beloved sister’s death. He has a pistol and a plan that will leave Beartown with a loss that is almost more that it can stand.

As it beautifully captures all the complexities of daily life and explores questions of friendship, loyalty, loss, and identity, this emotion-packed novel asks us to reconsider what it means to win, what it means to lose, and what it means to forgive.

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I am glad to see that the phrase tour de force has not been used into meaninglessness much like awesome because how could I conceivably describe Fredrik Backman’s last book in his Beartown trilogy, The Winners, without using tour de force?

Coming in at 688 pages, The Winners is not a slight meditation. It’s a thoughtful novel in which its author tosses out red herrings and then herrings that are not red at all but ones over which, you, the reader who has lived with Beartown’s characters for several years, will weep. Backman does not just give us tears but also laughs, truths, injustices, and moments of great love and sacrifice.

The Winners occurs two years after Us Against You. For their sanities, Maya and Benji have both moved away from Beartown; Maya to study in the capitol and Benji abroad to as many places as he can. But a death brings them back to the town they have complicated feelings for. They are reminded of the good and the bad. Could things have been different? Could one slight change have averted tragedies?

Honestly, I was initially annoyed that The Winners was so long. My reading schedule is usually hanging by a thread as it is so I didn’t anticipate The Winners length. Of course, at another time I probably would have had the novel read well in advance and would never be writing this paragraph because, on the other hand, The Winners needed to be as long as it is and at another time I wouldn’t have minded.

Backman has a lot to say. We have a lot to live with as we go through two weeks with our characters. Despite my need for speed, I savored the words sometimes almost as much as I hated and wept over them. If there is ever an author who walks miles in the shoes of a disparate person, it is this one. Why is this young man the way he is? Backman provides reasons without judgement. I suppose it is up to the reader to decide or not to decide to judge and uncover, inevitably, what that means about each of us at the conclusion.

Why is this novel named The Winners? Each of us may draw our own conclusions. It certainly isn’t because a team wins a hockey match or because the corrupt achieve their gains or those with integrity win in the end or fate becomes re-written. Or is it?

While I remained blithely ignorant that Beartown was ever going to be a trilogy, I’m glad it was and wish it wasn’t because now I will no longer be magically surprised when a new installment enters my little world. I’ll miss these complicated and lovely characters. Of course, I suppose this ending makes way for even more character and stories to be crafted by Backman. And I will eagerly await them.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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