Last year I read the bestseller Beartown by Fredrik Backman, the first in the Beartown series which had come out years ago. This Fall I was sent the third and last installment in that series called The Winners, which took me awhile to read due to its length (670 pages) but I enjoyed once I was able to ‘get into it’ ( a requirement for any larger book). I didn’t read the middle book titled Us Against You, but its events were quickly summarized in The Winners anyway, so I never felt like I was missing out on anything. This whole series is about hockey, and even though I could care less about sports, I still felt moved by these books and the characters within them. Backman’s books will always hold a special place in my heart, and this latest release is no different.
The Winners begins with a huge storm that sweeps through Beartown and Hed, knocking down huge trees and cutting power to almost everyone for at least a few hours. The two towns hold a long grudge manifested through their hockey teams, and because of the storm’s destruction Hed is forced to practice in the Beartown arena, which prompts a few brawls. We follow one character, Maya, who has returned home after the storm for a break from college, and finds her father Peter, an ex-NHL player and hockey coach, fairly depressed. Maya was one of the main characters from Beartown in which she accused a star hockey player of rape, and in this book she is still suffering emotionally from the assault. We learn of a new sexual assault in this book, one that was not reported, and we follow the consequences of that awful night, and what happens when a woman doesn’t have a support network behind her. We also follow the shattered dreams of a star player who didn’t make the NHL draft and is limping back from an injury and drug dependency, along with a few other characters who we read about in their own first-person perspectives. Everyone is always connected in these towns, so it’s easy to follow along with each individual story and plotline, especially because hockey is the nucleus to almost everything.
This book, more than any other Backman I’ve read so far, includes much foreshadowing. Perhaps it’s to help drive the reader through the many pages, or maybe it’s because it lends a bit of seriousness when you are made aware that a character is going to die in a few days, but regardless of the reason Backman uses it, he uses it ALOT in this particular book. The storm itself is also used as a disruptor – it seems to shake loose the anger that was building up since the last book (and town-to-town war) that triggers the conflict in The Winners. These two towns are separated by a physical forest and an emotional wall of hate, and it’s not until these barriers break down by force that the characters are spurred into action, some of it positive, and some of it negative.
The motivations of each character is what makes this book complicated. People are not good or bad in these towns, because we visit each character in a first-person capacity, we learn why they do things, even if those acts are horrible. Backman’s books are so appealing because of his capacity for empathy; he so perfectly describes the human condition, especially parenting in these pithy little quotes that I can’t get enough of (see my last review for an example). But I’m also impressed by the way Backman can describe the very complicated feelings that only motherhood can elicit:
“…she could have had just a job, but chose to have a career. You have a job for your family’s sake and a career for your own. She’s selfish with her time. She could have lived for them, but that isn’t enough for her.”-p. 49 of The Winners by Fredrik Backman, ARC version
Maya’s mother Kira is a strong, independent woman who loves her job and her family in equal measure, and like many women I know, including myself, struggle with these competing forces in their lives. But that’s what’s so incredible about this book and series; it tackles a huge variety of topics.
Hockey is the ONLY thing that matters in these towns, and those who don’t participate are viewed as outcasts. For many of the characters, hockey is a saviour, a ticket out of poverty, a way of relating to others, even a simple distraction to ease the loneliness of the long dark days so far up north. But through other characters, Backman shows the danger of the hockey obsession, and the havoc it wreaks on people’s lives. Again, this is why he’s a bestselling writer; he has somehow presented a balanced view of a sport that forms the basis for an entire series, and yet, I feel he only deepened my interest in it – he didn’t pass judgement on it, or ask me as a reader to judge it either. He just wrote a really great series of stories, and for that reason I’m going to continue recommending this very special writer.
He has to be special if he kept you interested over nearly 700 pages. especially when you’re not particularly interested in the sport! I’m one of the tiny minority that didn’t enjoy Beartown so this isn’t for me, but I do like the quotes you’ve chosen in this and your review of Anxious People.
yes, if someone told me before that I’d enjoy a book about hockey that was that length, I wouldn’t have believed them!
I really appreciate your review on this book as I just saw it at the bookstore the other day and was thinking about it. I have to catch up as I have a couple of his other books sitting in my library to read first!
Oh yes, definitely read his others first!
Anne, did you hear Eleanor Wachtel’s interview on Writers and Company? You can replay it on the website if you missed it.
No I didn’t Mary, but I probably should, I would love to hear him speak!
I’m one of the few people who hasn’t read Backman! Anxious People is on my list, though.
I would start with Anxious People, and if you like him, then jump into the Beartown series
Can I suggest “A man called Ove” as your opener in Backman?
I still have to read that one too!!! Maybe you’d like it Laila?
I can’t believe you read two books over 700 pages so close together, Anne. I don’t think I could (or is it would) do it. I’ve only read Backman’s novel Ove, and it had that grumpy-sweet combo that readers love. I would argue his female counterpart would be Billie Letts, who wrote amazing grumpy-sweet novels like The Honk and Holler Opening Soon and Where the Heart Is (which was made into a movie).
Yes, I read the two big books close together for my CBC column, but normally I wouldn’t do it. I also set me quite back in my goodreads goal – currently four books behind ugh
Holy crap, I forgot about the Goodreads goal. I do almost nothing on that site because I only ever got comments and likes from spam bots, and when I wrote to friends I wouldn’t get a notification that they responded.
Oh I don’t actually interact with ppl on it (at least, if someone has written me a comment, i’ve literally never replied to it). I just track my books on it and then put my reviews, and links to my blog. I can only handle so many platforms…
True. I quit interacting with people, but then I had this weird suspicion that Goodreads was losing some of my books. Like, I would swear I had read and reviewed a book, but it wasn’t on my Goodreads.
Oh gosh, now that’s no good, it’s the entire freaking reason I use it LOL
Time for the trusty spreadsheet.
NOOOO I have enough of those at work LOL
Great review! I haven’t read anything by Backman. I enjoy hockey but there is such an intense culture around it. Well before we had kids my husband and I agreed we would not be a hockey family!
I think you’d like Backman actually Karissa, but dont start with this Beartown series. I see that a movie is coming out with Tom Hanks based on his A Man Called Ove book…
I haven’t read any of these yet. Partly because, like you, I have no interest in hockey. But I also know, if the writer is good, that won’t matter. And everyone seems to love the series. So I’ll have to give them a try sometime. I did find the first book at a used book sale…
You’ll likely be able to find all of them used, everyone loves this guy! haha
Totally no interest in hockey, zero! But this series is amazing. His writing is brilliant. I have read all of his books. If he wrote a book about a bubble it would probably be amazing.
agreed! He is such an amazing writer
Glad you enjoyed. It got a bit too deep into hate for the CE.
Yes I know what you mean! At points it was a bit uncomfortable, I totally felt that too