Us Against You, by Fredrik Backman****

“The first time Peter realized that the tiny person was sleeping soundly in his arms. What are we prepared to do for our children at that moment? What aren’t we prepared to do?”

UsAgainstYouUs Against You is the second in book in the Beartown trilogy. My thanks go to Net Galley and Atria for the invitation to read and review. This book will be available to the public tomorrow.

Beartown is in crisis. The hockey team has been undone by the arrest of their star player for rape, and Maya, his victim, has been harassed endlessly as if she were the perpetrator. Resentments simmer. There are anonymous callers. A new coach is hired, not only a woman—but a lesbian. Chins wag. New owners roll into town, friendly and treacherous, generous and oily. Violence hums beneath the surface as the town polarizes between the hometown hockey team and that in the neighboring town, to which some Beartown citizens have decamped.

Fredrik Backman, who is possibly the finest male feminist novelist in the world, is on a roll here. It’s interesting to note that although the hockey players in this story are men and boys, the best developed, most complex characters are the women. I like reading about Peter, Leo, Amat, Benji, and Teemu, but the characters that keep me coming back are Kira and Maya, Ana and Ramona. More than anything I want Kira to pack her bags and seize the opportunities presented to her, with or without Peter. Just go, woman, go. But it’s always easy to suggest that someone else should leave a troubled marriage behind, and the way that she deals with this problem—and the role that her daughter plays in the decision—is thought-provoking.

Meanwhile there are about a dozen other small threads here, and again, Backman is among the best writers when it comes to developing a large cast of town members without dropping anyone’s story or letting the pace flag. His use of repetition as figurative language is brilliant, and he is unquestionably the king of the literary head fake. If I taught creative writing to adults, I would assign my students to read his work.

I have some relatively minor quibbles here, although I know so little of Swedish culture that they may or may not be valid within that framework. I would dial the sentimentality and drama down twenty to twenty-five percent; clearly most readers love this aspect of these novels, but I would argue for a smidge more subtlety. There are occasional exaggerations that remind me that the characters are fictional. When the entire town is economically depressed, and yet everyone shows support for something by showing up in matching jackets, and when a preposterous amount of spare change goes begging in the kitty at the local bar, I wince. But then I am quickly drawn back in by the complex, compelling characterizations.

If you’re a fan of Backman’s, you won’t be disappointed. If you have never read his work before, don’t start here. Read one of his excellent stand-alone novels, or begin with Beartown, the first in this series. Recommended to those that love fiction that features excellent, complex characters, particularly female characters.

Eloquent Rage, by Brittney Cooper****

EloquentRageCooper has had enough, and who can blame her?

I received my copy of Cooper’s essays free and early, thanks to Net Galley and St. Martin’s Press. Her prose is clear, articulate, and full of fire.

Had I read my post-Trayvon civil rights titles in a different sequence, I might very well have called this a five star collection. However, I read Samantha Irby, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Angela Davis, and Matt Taibbi first, and so the bar was set somewhere in the stratosphere when I opened this galley. I wanted Cooper’s viewpoints to be accompanied by some hard facts, complete with citations. However, for those looking to have their world view clarified and their consciousness raised, Cooper’s collection is recommended.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg *****

friedgreentomatoesIf I had to whittle several decades of reading down to thirty favorite books, this one would make the cut. It is wonderful on so many levels. Flagg has published a number of glorious, whimsical yet not shallow novels, always set in the deep South. This one is the jewel in her literary crown.

Have you seen the movie? If you have, this book may be easier for you to read. I read it, and absolutely (as you can see) loved it. The issue for other readers I’ve talked to is that the book hops back and forth in terms of setting, including time period, and it doesn’t provide an obvious heads-up that this is what is happening.

There are two stories being told, one that of a contemporary woman who is unhappy with her life, menopausal and fearful that she is losing her husband’s attention, bored and feeling worthless. She is spending part of her weekend at a nursing home where her husband’s wife resides, but the woman hates her and won’t let her in the room. It is in the lobby where she is faithfully stationed, downing the candy stash from her purse for comfort, that she meets one of the home’s residents, who tells her pieces of her life story, a little more each visit. But in the book, we are taken back in time in other ways. Suddenly we are reading a small town newspaper, and if you are a person who skips chapter headings, you’re likely to find yourself entirely confused.

I won’t give away more of the plot, but for the time in which it was written, this novel bravely took up one progressive (IMHO) cause about which not much was being written. It’s very subtle. Other parts of the story will leave you laughing so hard that you either can’t catch your breath, or if you are old enough, you may not hang onto…something else.

Highly recommended.