When I was young, I saved my lunch money so that I could buy the newest Beatles’ and Stones’ records as soon as they were released because I knew I would love them, and I did. There are few authors that I will read every word they write, and jump at their newest novel. Fredrik Backman is one. I devoured his new Us Against You. A sequel to Beartown, it takes place immediately after the events of that book. It is brilliant. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
“Everyone gets a stick. Two nets. Two teams. Us against you,” old hockey coach, Sune, explained to a young Peter Andersson to simplify the game of hockey. This simple three-word title tells us everything about a book about far more than simply hockey.
Us - All joined by love, allegiance and a hard work ethos. Beartown: manipulative city councilman, Richard Theo, who plots for power and alcoholic widow barkeep, Ramona, who is the mother figure for all distressed children. Beartown’s hockey club: General manager, Peter Andresson, still dealing with the rape of his daughter, and forced to make concessions that endanger his family to keep his hockey club alive. Elizabeth Zackell, the unorthodox new coach, who doesn't understand emotions. The players: Benji Ovich, the tough as nails star, who is keeping a secret, young Amat, small but fast, who is trying to skate his way out of his Hollows’ slum, goalie, Vidar, released from a facility he was sentenced to for a lack of impulse control, and huge lovable Bobo, a little slow on the ice and off it, who is dealing with his mother’s terminal cancer. The black jacketed “hooligan” Pack: Woody, Spider and their leader, Teemu Rinnius, Vidar’s older brother, who are devoted Beartown hockey fans known for their violence and willingness to help those in need. Family: the Andressons, father Peter, mother, lawyer, wife, Kyra, who has suppressed her dreams for those of her husband and their children, Maya damaged by rape, her poetic songs reveal her struggles, and 12-year-old Leo who hates himself for being unable to protect his big sister. The Ovitches, Benji and his protective big sisters, Gaby and Adri, who sleeps with the key to the gun cabinet under her pillow to make sure Benji doesn't “take a rifle into the forest” like his father. Best friends, the hunter, Ana, who lives with her alcoholic father, and the musician, Maya.
Against - competition, conflict, violence, a tragic accident, arson, hostility and the slow erosion of a marriage.
You - Hed, the big city and main competition for jobs and in hockey. William Lyt, the Hed hockey star, who will savagely beat someone but not causing permanent damage. Best friends divided by one’s vengeful cruel betrayal. The town of Beartown looking for scapegoats and anonymously punishing victims. Each other.
Backman's characters are three-dimensional, flesh and blood, complex and courageous. He knows the human condition and our motivations. In every chapter I found something that moved me, and made me marvel at how he could be so insightful, whimsical and heartfelt. You don’t have to read Beartown before Us Against You, if you do, I envy you for having such a wonderful reading adventure in front of you. This is my favorite Backman book, and that is saying something. I think it is his Sgt. Pepper or Exile on Main Street.
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