cover image Beartown


Fredrik Backman, trans. from the Swedish by Neil Smith, read by Marin Ireland. S&S Audio, , unabridged, 11 CDs, 13 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-5082-3097-7

Backman’s latest novel requires actor Ireland to portray small-town machismo with sensitivity, eschewing caricature and low-hanging fruit to reveal the vulnerable underside of the teenage players of Beartown’s youth hockey league (and their parents, who live vicariously through them). For the most part, she succeeds, and does so with memorable rigor. Her raspy alto switches believably among a wide range of characters—female and male, young and adult—as she gives voice to the emotions they face, from hidden loneliness to the anger of unforgivable betrayal. Ireland has had recurring roles on a number of noteworthy TV shows, including Homeland, Girls, and The Killing; while she hasn’t had a similar range of experience with audio narration, this doesn’t feel like a rookie outing. Her narration is at its best during particularly dramatic moments of the story, such as the crime that occurs amid a raucous victory party. Her passion during these scenes is such that the fictional residents of Beartown might say she “has the bear in her”—their highest compliment for a clutch player who gives everything to a performance, whether in hockey or in life. With luck we will see her as an audiobook narrator more often in the future. An Atria hardcover. (Apr.)