cover image The Winners

The Winners

Fredrik Backman, trans. from the Swedish by Neil Smith. Atria, $28.99 (688p) ISBN 978-1-982112-79-0

Backman (Anxious People) wraps up his Beartown trilogy with the satisfying if overlong tale of two small towns and their inhabitants’ traumas and rivalries. After a storm collapses the roof of the hockey rink in Hed, the town’s club must share the rink in Beartown, stoking long-held resentments between the clubs. To make matters worse, the editor of Beartown’s newspaper discovers someone from Beartown’s club is embezzling tax revenue. Meanwhile, after 14-year-old Matteo’s older sister dies from a drug overdose, Matteo grows increasingly bitter toward the people from the two towns, who show little regard for his family’s problems, and he eventually becomes violent. Backman’s narration often feels heavy-handed, and his aphorisms alternate from opaque to obvious (“Guilt is stronger than logic”; “In hockey we know who the winners are, because winners win”). Moreover, many of the chapter-length asides are entirely too aside and lead nowhere. The tension, however, remains palpable after a former hockey player returns to Beartown and everyone assumes he’s out to settle a score, and a series of threats escalate into explosive violence and a painful resolution. This will do the trick for insatiable Beartown fans, though others can take a pass. (Oct.)