Thursday, June 8, 2023

The Winners by Fredrik Backman

The Winners
by Fredrik Backman
Published September 2022 by Atria Books
Read by Marlin Ireland
21 hours, 22 minutes

Publisher's Summary: 
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.

My Thoughts: 
Curse you, Fredrik Backman! I knew you could play with my emotions; you've done it so many times, including in this series. But you took it to a whole other level with this one. You broke my heart! 

As much as the events of Us Against You were a followup to Beartown, they were even more a set up for the events of The Winners. What Richard Theo set in motion in the second book comes to fruition in The Winners but we don't even see it coming for well into the book, after the devastating storm amps up the animosity (as if it hadn't already reached its peak) between Beartown and Hed. We know things are going to come to a terrible end as soon as the book begins; Backman is the king of foreshadowing. He's also the king of foreshadowing that means something different than what readers first assume. So you don't know for sure what's going to happen. Except that the unnamed boy in the publisher's summary is probably going to play a part. It often feels like Backman is playing a game of cat and mouse with his readers. 

Terrible things happen. But the terrible things, as terrible things so often do, causes enemies to come together, causes communities to pull together more than ever. Backman gives us, as he always does, the full range of human emotions. It's what makes his books so relatable. Life is full of anger, violence, sadness, enemies and loss; it is also filled with friendship, humor, happiness, healing and love. 

I had a couple of quibbles with this one but I can't really go into what they were without giving things away, so I won't. I highly recommend these books in audiobook format; Ireland is fantastic and it's good to hear the pronunciations of the names. Of course, in print you can go back and read those trademark marvelous insights into humanity, so maybe print? Either way, you can't really lose.  

After three books, Backman seems ready to be done with the people of Beartown. There's not much left that he can do to these people without it beginning to feel like a soap opera. So he spends the end of this book catching readers up with what will happen to the characters in the rest of their lives. It felt a bit rushed but each character's future felt true to what you would hope and expect for them. 

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