Book review: ‘Us Against You’ by Fredrik Backman (translator Neil Smith)

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

“Beartown” introduces us to a hockey town, and not just any hockey town, but a relatively small, rural community in the forests of Sweden that has been a hockey town to be reckoned with in the past.

Plans to regain that standing fail when the star player commits rape and the community chooses sides. “Us Against You” is the story of what happens after.

Because the hockey club is supported by sponsors and the area district, hockey always has had a political element. Add to that the rivalry with Hed, the somewhat bigger community in the district, and politics abound. After the rape investigation, the Beartown coach is offered a position in Hed. Most of the players follow him there. When district officials decide that under the circumstances, they can support only one club, Hed, most of the other sponsors follow, wanting to support a winner.

The Beartown hockey club is on the brink of bankruptcy. Enter a politician. Having inside information that there will be new foreign owners of the local factory, he sees a way to leverage the situation to his advantage. What could be better than a politician who saves the beloved hockey team and brings in more jobs?  What could be a better way for a foreign company to gain acceptance in Beartown than to support hockey?

“Us Against You” is a venture into human psychology and clever writing, as well as a good story. How do politics work? What levers do you need to pull when? How much will an individual give up to accomplish a goal, to get recognition? What does it take to be the rape victim who stood up for herself or to be recognized as a homosexual in a hockey town?

In my “Beartown” review, I referred to Backman’s foreshadowing, He has a clever way of doing that at the end of the chapter:

“Leo knows that the teacher is trying to … rescue him. 

She won’t succeed.”

“ … Spider, Woody, and a dozen black coats have drunk toasts to Benji. He’s one of them again. You might think that would make things easier when his secrets are revealed, but the exact opposite happens.”

On more than one occasion, Backman uses misdirection to add depth to the story. A shot rings out, and we’ve been set up in the story to know what that means. And yet when we return to that scene, something entirely different has taken place, leading the story in a different direction.

Beartown makes a final push, and it looks like they will tie Hed, setting up a fairytale ending, but ….

If you read only one Backman book, I recommend “A Man Called Ove.” Then you may want to read “Beartown,” and if you do, you’ll surely want to read “Us Versus Them.”

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