The book takes place in the late 1830s when Abraham Lincoln was still a practicing attorney and just entering into politics. His best friend, Joshua Fry Speed, serves as his Dr. Watson during the day and his bed-mate at night. No… I’m not suggesting anything was going on there, nor is the author. I bring this up only because it reminded me that people would sleep in the same bed together back then. As an avid genealogist, I find this entire time period in America fascinating. Disputes over territory with Great Britain, kicking Native American off their land, Whigs and Democrats having duels (remember Burr and Hamilton?). It’s like a rich history lesson and I seem to be on a kick reading several historical fiction novels lately.
In this caper, elections are front and center. When the current Town Land Recorder is killed, it appears like a political opponent had something to do with it. Throw in backstory about Lincoln’s first fiancee (all real!) who died of meningitis, a decade-old feud over who loved her, and Honest Abe’s rough & rude father and step-brother, there are tones of side stories to keep this plot moving along. The pace is good, a fair balance between life nearly two centuries ago and the need for some expediency in action in modern times. The trial was eye-opening. The duel was amusing. But the camaraderie within the primary characters and between the protagonists and antagonists was quite strong.
Resurrection of long-dead actual people as fictionalized characters has been done before. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Here it definitely did. This story had a very palpable voice and connection. I could feel the tension between the political rivalries. I could see the respect they still shared for one another (something lacking in today’s leaders) and the differences in how men and women were treated. Putnam paints a good picture of life in America in 1838, and you feel transported to the tenacity people demonstrated to get ahead but still follow the rules. A few people misbehaved, but they apologized and often received fair judgment and punishment.
The book contains an afterthought chapter from the author who describes what is real and what was potentially fictional. I LOVE this part, as I could see where he drew a line in what he would make up or keep strictly accurate. This is the kind of approach I wish other authors would take when writing historical fiction, as sometimes readers like to know where the line has been blurred. Kudos to Putnam for generating some interest in a time period we only ever attribute to the Civil War. There were a lot of expansionist activities occurring in the Midwest during this time period, and the true nature of our political parties beginning to veer off into different directions was taking place. But we also saw the birth of law and trials. The courtship between men and women. And then ways in which people traveled from one part of the land to another.
All in all, a very exciting read. It fit well into my expanding genre selections, showed some opportunity for a great series to explore on the literary forefront, and gave me something analytical with many hidden truths to think about. Thank you for sending this book my way!
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. I write A LOT. I read A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.
Why This Book
I run a monthly poll on the ThisIsMyTruthNow blog via my Book Bucket List. Followers get to choose from a list of the twelve books I own and want to read in the near future. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman was selected as the book I should read in March 2018. I added it to the list because I really enjoyed his novel, Beartown, and thought this was the next logical step. A good friend of mine was interested in reading the novel, too, so we made this a buddy read. I’m so excited to discuss the book as if it’s our own book club.
Approach & Style
I was going to order the book online, but I found it sitting on the shelf in my apartment building’s library room; how lucky am i? The paperback is 337 pages long and broken into ~40 chapters (not numbered). Each has a title which explains what might happen in the chapter, and they mostly alternate between what is happening today in Ove’s life in comparison to something connected that occurred in the past. It took me 4 hours to read over a three-day weekend getaway to New Hampshire, but I forced myself to stop at 110 pages each day so it would last longer. It could easily be read in one sitting as it’s that good! The novel’s perspective is focused on Ove, and it is told in third-person omniscient POV. It was published in 2014 but as a Swedish novel, then brilliantly translated into English.
Plot, Characters & Setting
Ove is a 59-year old man who is cantankerous, ornery, difficult, mean and everything else that comes along with the type of men you’d see in the movie “Grumpy Old Men.” It opens with a bit about an iPad that is basically someone we all know (or are — I see my own future in a good 20+ years). But he of course has a heart somewhere, and we spend the entirety of the book seeing little pieces of it as we watch his journey to try to complete a final goal. We meet several of his neighbors and former friends, a few citizens of his community, and some strangers who all have an impact on Ove’s life, but are also touched by the time they spend with Ove.
It’s difficult to summarize more about the book without giving away big pieces of the plot, but it is a story that will make you cry and laugh at the same time on several occasions. Imagine a man you would not want to meet in person slowly tugging at your heart strings because you see and understand all he’s been through that’s turned him into the person we read about today. When you learn what his actual goal is, you’ll be shocked and struggle to accept that you want to support him in it. And when the things he’s always wanted but could never quite have suddenly start appearing in his life, you’ll know you can’t help but love the grumpy old man.
Fredrik Backman is hands-down one of my favorite character-building authors. Ove has so many levels to him you will lose count trying to guess what he might do in any given situation. His first reaction will almost always annoy you. His second will irritate you beyond belief… could he really have lost all humanity? But by the third or fourth time he encounters a situation, you see the tides turning. That’s where Backman excels. No matter how harsh he makes someone, the character teeters on the edge until they fall sweepingly into your arms as someone you now love and root for.
Despite reading the reviews and guessing enough of the high-level plot from the descriptions, I was not prepared for all the emotions in this book. The story captures different aspects of life and tries to make sense of them in reverse order. We aren’t reading Ove’s past in any logical format or order. It’s bits and pieces, re-told at appropriate points in his current life. In the opening scenes, he’s yelling at an iPad sales clerk… and we think he’s just an irate older man who can’t ‘get with the times.’ But when you learn everything that led up to it, you’ll find so many new connections. The order of the chapters is brilliant. You know people dislike one another, but not why. You find out way after you think you will, and it makes total sense. An author who can keep that going for 300+ pages is phenomenal.
I kept thinking ‘What if Ove meets the main character from The Five People You Meet in Heaven?’ Would they get along? They’re basically the same person, but completely different. From the plot to the story, the dialogue to the narrative, this book will capture your attention, enthrall your senses, tease you, torture you, and in the end, make you wish there were more. I can’t recommend it enough! You’ll even laugh out loud so often, people will look at you quite funny.
I am so thrilled with my second Fredrik Backman book that I plan to read all of his remaining works this summer. I have a copy of Beartown 2 which I will read next month, but then it will be My Grandmother Asked me To Tell You She’s Sorry and Britt-Marie was here. There are others, but those are up next on the spring and summer reading lists. I don’t think I could be disappointed as I am addicted to his writing style and storytelling abilities. He’s definitely in my top 10 favorite authors thus far in my reading lifetime.
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My debut novel, Watching Glass Shatter, can be purchased on Amazon. I write A LOT. I read A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.