I love when the local bookstore asks me to interview a visiting author, making it a Q&A-style event instead of a reading. I like that better in my own events too, more of a conversation than a monologue. That unscripted quality is probably why the back-and-forth of questions at the end are often the best part of a reading.
Yesterday bestselling Swedish author Fredrik Backman came to town, his only stop in the Boston area. I had three months’ notice to read his latest book, BEARTOWN, plus his backlist: A MAN CALLED OVE (once and for all settling any debate that existed over the pronunciation — it’s Ooo-veh), MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE’S SORRY, BRITT MARIE WAS HERE, and others).
I especially enjoyed BEARTOWN, about the effect of youth hockey enthusiasm on a small town. It was darker than his earlier books, and examines the pack mentality of a team, and the way loyalties can divide a community when one player is accused of a crime. A member of the audience asked Backman how the book was being received by male athletes. He said he was a bit surprised that it hadn’t been an issue, but wondered what the reception would have been if it had been written by a woman. “It might have been challenged more, which is a shame but true.”
The main character is the town itself, and it works well. The narrative lens is like a camera suspended above, dipping in and out of each house, observing how the residents respond to the crisis. There is much hand-wringing over what’s happening to the community and laments of how can the community let this happen, which sounds eerily familiar in 2017 America. But groups are just a large number of individuals, and Backman doesn’t let personal responsibility off the hook: “Community is the sum of moral decisions made by the people who live there.”
Backman is charming and self-effacing, very at ease in front of a crowd, making it hard to believe his assertion that Ove was based on his own inner curmudgegon. “I’m not very socially competent,” he says. “There’s a lot of me in him.”
Considering the number of people in this sold-out crowd lined up for selfies with the author, it looks like socially incompetent is the new black.