Some authors just have a knack for writing the kinds of books people love. Maybe they’re the kinds of books that win awards, or maybe they’re the kinds of books that touch people’s hearts and turn into bestsellers. Both Elizabeth Strout and Fredrik Backman fall into that category, and both of them have new books out that you want to check out if you’re a fan of their work.
Elizabeth Strout won a Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteridge, a collection of interconnected short stories that was later made into a television series starring Frances McDormand. Her books focus on small town people and the connections between them, and her gift is to make those people come alive so you feel you know them better than people you know in real life, and she makes connections between one book and another that deepen the significance of both books. Her newest book, Anything Is Possible, follows on the heels of her last book, My Name Is Lucy Barton, and takes place in the same town where Lucy was born and raised, which both Lucy and her mother discussed in the previous book. Like other books by Strout, this book is in the form of interlinked stories, baring the souls of people bound together by shared pasts and shared presents, focusing on relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, siblings, and illuminating them all with Strout’s characteristic grace and beautiful writing.
Fredrik Backman’s breakout book was A Man Called Ove, which came out in America in 2014 and is still a favorite of book groups, the sort of book you have to put on hold to have a hope of being able to read from the library. That book, about a seemingly curmudgeonly man who is gradually revealed to be a man in mourning who’s better than his outward appearance would suggest, has been an international bestseller and was followed up by Britt Marie Was Here and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, both of which have also been bestsellers about isolated people becoming part of the larger world. His newest book, Beartown, is a little different, though some of his themes shine through here as well. Beartown is a small town slowly dying, the forests encroaching on its periphery, but the people in the town still have hope: their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals and might even win. Unlike the classic sports movie about the underdogs who go on to win it all, in Beartown the critical match turns into something violent, traumatizing one young girl and spreading pain and trouble throughout the town. Can the people pull together and find hope even in the aftermath of such a damaging event? Don’t expect a sentimental happy ending, but rest assured that Backman will bring you a satisfying one.
By the way, for those doing the 2017 Reading Challenge, Beartown counts as a book about sports. Just saying.