Set in a small hamlet in Sweden, surrounded by wild forest land, Bear Town is a fast, enjoyable read examining various facets of this fading town and the odd assortment of residents who populate it.
Bear Town has seen better days. Once a reasonably prosperous small town, Bear Town boasted factories and blue collar jobs that stimulated the economy and built a sense of pride that allowed the town to create a legacy around its favorite sport – ice hockey.
But those are distant memories in today’s Bear Town. The factories have long since moved away and the long-term unemployed spend their days in the town saloon reminiscing about the glory days.
The story nominally circles around Peter Andersson, a hometown boy with a talent for hockey, who made it big, moved to Canada to play for the NHL and is now back as General Manager for the Bear Town hockey team. He’s expected to make things happen. He’s expected to ensure victory for the team, thereby ensuring relevance once again for the town.
Although Peter and his family are the focal point in the story, the novel covers various coaches, townspeople, youth hockey players and their families, and kids in school. This is both the novel’s strength and its weakness. On the one hand, it provides a well rounded view of the town and the struggle to achieve greatness in a small town environment. It also touches upon an environment in which winning is everything, and the ramifications that can have. The technique allows us to see this from various perspectives. On the other hand, the style often feels superficial. By the end, I had grown somewhat tired of this storytelling technique and would have preferred a focus on fewer characters.
The other weakness for me was a repetition of themes. I felt the reader could have easily picked up on these himself, without the need to state these so obviously, and so frequently.
Nevertheless, overall I enjoyed this engaging novel. I happen to be a hockey fan, but you don’t have to be to enjoy this novel of small town life set in the forests of Sweden.