Beartown is a remote small town in Sweden that has been slowly dying. The only thing they have left is hockey, and hockey is “everything” to them:
“It’s only a game. It only resolves tiny, insignificant things. Such as who gets validation. Who gets listened to. It allocates power and draws boundaries and turns some people into stars and others into spectators. That’s all.”
As the story begins, it is the night before the biggest youth tournament in the country, in which the Beartown Ice Hockey Club’s junior team is playing in the semifinal. After they unexpectedly and improbably win, the kids have a party to celebrate, and a violent act of rape turns the town upside down.
Much of the story recounts the reaction of the town to the rape. The author shows a range of responses:
“For the perpetrator, rape lasts just a matter of minutes. For the victim, it never stops.”
“It starts with ‘she wanted it’ and ends with ‘she deserved it.’”
“It’s her word against his . . .. We have to think of the team first.”
“She will always be this to them now: at best the girl who got raped, at worst the girl who lied. They will never let her be anyone but that.”
What happens as a result of this event affects everyone in the town for the rest of their lives.
Evaluation: This was a very good book, and I was impressed with the author’s inclusion of the many responses to accusations of rape. In addition, I really like Backman’s writing style. I was a little disappointed though by the “epilogue” ending. It was unnecessarily vague, in my view. Unless a sequel is coming that the author didn’t want to spoil, it seemed more cruel to offer only half bits of confusing information to readers. Overall though, an enjoyable read.
Published in English by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, 2017