Bestselling Backman follows up with Beartown

Any reader breezing into Swedish author Fredrik Backman’s new novel Beartown anticipating the gentle whimsy and quirky comic comfort food of his runaway smash A Man Called Ove would be advised to check those expectations.With his latest, the furiously prolific blogger-turned-author casts his eye on a tiny, declining Swedish community where the hockey-obsessed locals hoist their collective dreams and frustrations on the teenage shoulders of the local junior hockey team. When one of the team’s hotshot prospects sexually assaults a classmate during Beartown’s unlikely run toward the national final, the town and team alike become bitterly divided.Certainly, Backman sees that the thrilling, tightly coiled tale is a departure from the quirky Ove and the rest of his oeuvre. Still, he was surprised at the extent to which the new novel caught some off-guard. “The reception in Sweden was that the critics felt it was more different than I thought they would,” Backman said. “I think the basic way that I told a story about human beings is not all that different from my earlier works. The story is just a little bit darker and a little bit more serious. “I wanted to write something that was both my way of explaining how much I love sports and what that’s meant to me, but I also wanted to write something about the darkness of it.”Article Continued BelowIt’s important to note Backman was drawn to that darkness out of love. Like many in Sweden, where Backman estimates the fervour for hockey is similar to Canada’s own, he’s a lifelong fan. Growing up, it was the only sport he didn’t play — “I was a very fragile kid . . . I tried to play hockey but I just got hurt all the time” — but otherwise he was immersed, following closely both the Swedish Hockey League and the NHL (countrymen such as Nicklas Lidstrom made him a Detroit Red Wings fan).“I have a hockey interest that I would call an interest,” said Backman, “and my wife would call it a serious mental health issue.”