Source: Purchased copy
Publication: 4 October 2022 from Simon & Schuster
This is a small story about big questions.
It’s a story about family, community, life.
It starts with a storm – and a death.
But how does it end?
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 residents continue to grapple with life’s big questions: What is a family? What is a community? And what, if anything, are we willing to sacrifice in order to protect them?
As the locals of Beartown struggle to overcome the past, great change is on the horizon. Someone is coming home after a long time away. Someone will be laid to rest. Someone will fall in love, someone will try to fix their marriage, and someone will do anything to save their children. Someone will submit to hate, someone will fight, and someone will grab a gun and walk towards the ice rink.
So what are the residents of Beartown willing to sacrifice for their home?
The Winners is the final book in the Beartown trilogy and you should absolutely go back and start to read this trilogy from the beginning. It is a stunning opus and one that I can’t recommend too highly.
I’m going to talk mainly about this trilogy as a whole, because reviewing the final book makes little sense if you haven’t read the others. But know that The Winners is as good a final book as you might expect and I loved it just as much as Beartown and Us Against You.
Backman is a skilled story teller; he carefully reveals character studies of each and every one of his characters. These are beautifully rich vignettes which help to underline attitudes, backgrounds and relationships until you can almost see this town, nestling on its own, secluded in the midst of the cold forest. Beartown is a town where industry is dying and young people are looking for somewhere else to go. It is only the hockey and for the adults, alcohol, that keeps everyone’s spirits alive.
Slowly and carefully Backman paints a multi-layered picture of a town with nothing going for it except a pretty decent junior hockey team. That team isn’t just the metaphor for hope; it is the only thing in the whole damn town that actually offers any hope. Everything rides on it, from the pride people feel in the town because of the team, to the jobs that could be created if the team is successful and the prize is being selected to become the home of the National Hockey Training Centre.
You wouldn’t think that three books about a hockey team would grab a non-sports person like me, but these books are amazing and very special. Backman delves into the lives of the people in this town and he tells you not just about their actions and who they are, but he looks into their souls and gives you an acute sense of the kind of people they are and why they take the actions that they do.
It is an intense and very emotional experience. He writes with a passion for hockey and the life of hockey players on the ice and off it. He also writes with candour and sometimes a really brutal honesty about the pettiness, the corruption and the venality of those who profess to love the sport but whose over-riding ambitions are less for the team and more for their own benefit.
This trilogy is about belonging – belonging to a tribe or being a lone outsider. It’s about leadership and values; about the power of friendship and the importance of personal integrity. In a town where winning is all that matters, what is the right thing to do?
The Winners is a weighty read and really quite a dark one, but it is so worthwhile. Rarely does a piece fiction cause me to examine myself in such an objective way, because this is also a book about values and judgements and above all it is about honesty and seeing yourself for who you are.
These are books that soar above the crowd; novels that examine societal behaviour by tackling the big issues and putting them into small town life. If that sounds grandiose, it isn’t. Backman shows us humanity in all its forms; makes us laugh and cry, creates characters who can at once be divisive and healing and shows us how easily manipulation can make puppets of us all.
Backman’s writing is as smooth as silk and his narrative arcs are perfectly formed jewels. He has this trick of telling us at the beginning of the chapter what is going to happen, yet by the end of that chapter we are left astonished that it has.
Backman has a love and respect for his characters that shines through on the page, whether they are engaged in good or bad acts. He documents the wins and the losses on a sporting level whilst underlining the personal cost to the town’s people.
He gently leads us through the gamut of emotions from despair to hope; from tears to joy and back again. He does that by using an almost Garrison Keillor like homespun narrative, except this is much sharper and more pointed. Instead of just showing us events, Backman takes us into the hearts and souls of his characters and makes them very real for us as he displays for us all their prejudices, their closest secrets and the lies they tell themselves and makes us love them just the same.
Intense, propulsive, shocking and sometimes pulsing with violence, this is a book that stirred all my emotions as the suspense mounted and the story took on a life of its own.
I sobbed ugly tears at the end of The Winners in much the same way as I did with the previous two books in this remarkable trilogy. These books will always be on my must read list. You can feel the love with which they were written and the care that Backman has for his characters. I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, Us Against You, and Anxious People, as well as two novellas and one work of nonfiction. His books are published in more than forty countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children.