I wanted this to be better.
Today is Carleton's 144th graduation. I’m hiding out, writing reviews at Blue Monday because it's raining. If you don’t have time to read this blog post, the summary is that Us Against You (Beartown #2) is not as good as Beartown. 85% of Goodreads users gave Us Against You 4 or 5 stars, but I'm stubbornly sticking with 3 stars for this sequel.
Backman’s novels, translated from the original Swedish and published in forty countries, have soared in popularity since the release of his last novel, Beartown. For the past few months, I've been awaiting the release of the English version of Us Against You in American bookstores. It came out last week and I don’t find it compelling.
Beartown is interesting in its unflinching descriptions of the interplay between elite, men’s athletics and sexual assault in a small town. It read like a narrative version of Krakauer’s Missoula. Us Against You is a very different type of book. Dramatic and action-packed, the sequel is a total page turner (not in a way I appreciate). The plot is reliant on absurdly dramatic events (shootings, fires, fights, suicides, car crashes, and implausibly intense hockey games). There are too many story lines here, reducing the importance of each sub plot, and every event is concocted for dramatic purpose. To be honest, reading this felt like watching a violent, TV drama that practically begs you to tune in next week. Another car crash, another fire, another fight, another death, more gun shots. Can this end yet?
Backman’s frequent attempts at philosophical reflection also bug me. In Beartown, I actually enjoyed his philosophical meanderings. For some reason, these attempts seem juvenile and forced in Us Against You. The Washington Post calls Backman’s attempts at philosophical discussion “clumsy." I agree wholeheartedly. There are too many passages that read like a third grade philosophy lesson: “Life is a weird thing. We spend all our time trying to manage different aspects of it, yet we are largely shaped by aspects of it we cannot control.” Yikes.
If you loved Beartown #1, go ahead and read this for updates on the lives of Amat, Benji, Maya, and Ana. Perhaps these lovable characters are the only reason to keep up with the series. I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend this.