I am so glad the Velvet Ashes book club introduced me to Fredrik Backman’s writing and that we have made it a tradition to read something by him each summer! In some ways, these short novellas are quite different from his longer books, yet what I appreciate most about him still shines through.
Fredrik Backman seems to genuinely like his characters. He does not glorify them or excuse their darker sides but shows them as human beings in all their beautiful, messy complexity. He does not mock their weaknesses but treats them with kindness. And he is a fabulous storyteller! Have you followed along with any of the other Fredrik Backman books we’ve read? What did you appreciate about them?
Ok, let’s jump into the story in The Deal of a Lifetime. It seems the main character has been haunted by, and trying to outrun, death his entire life. Living when his twin brother did not, and seeing his parents forever altered by the loss. At age 15, again living when his best friend dies in a tragic accident. Always looking out for the woman with the folder. No wonder he could not handle becoming a father. The line “I couldn’t stay with someone who had that kind of power over me [i.e. making him feel someone else’s pain]” is so incredibly sad. Yet so understandable. When all he knows of that deep connection is the pain of loss, why would he choose to enter into it? And so he ran – into work, success, travel. He left his family and pushed his son away until he had lost him. So very sad.
And the little girl – oh my word! Heartbreaking. But also so beautiful, the way she tries to make things just a little easier for her mum, and vice versa. The sentence that really got me was “When five-year-old girls die, no one writes about that […] their feet are still too small, they haven’t had time to make anyone care about their footsteps yet.”
Yet just a little further along in the story, the man allows his heart to be touched and softened by the little girl. Or as he puts it: “Maybe I cracked, making all the light spill out. Or in.” And he is excited to have made the list of people she wants to have at her birthday party. The profound gift each life is to this world, however many seconds the person might be given. However outwardly successful they are or not.
“What will [your friends’] parents leave behind? […] I abandoned you but at least I abandoned you at the top of the hierarchy of needs.” In that moment in the hospital, with the “light spilling out”, I wonder did he remember this statement? Did he realize the “barbecues and rounds of golf” he had so roundly dismissed might have created the human connections he’d run away from? Did he regret his choices? Did he regret having devoted “all his seconds to his work”?
All the way through, I was thinking what a difference it would have made had he known how deeply loved by God he was. We still mess up. Our brokenness doesn’t disappear overnight. Tragedies still happen. And yet. Forgiveness, grace and hope would have changed the story so profoundly even if the “events” stayed the same.
Let’s end this post by circling back to the start of the book and a few thoughts about a person’s relationship with his hometown. Interestingly, this comes up twice: once in the introduction (presumably there referring to Fredrik Backman himself) and then again in the story. It seems this topic was on his mind even if it is not the focus of this novella!
I was intrigued by the way he describes it. Maybe particularly for those of us who grew up in one place but have not lived there as adults, that place will always hold our childhood selves. It holds our hopes, dreams and aspirations, forever reminding us of all that we have failed to achieve. And even if we are successful, if we manage to impress people, our hometown knows who we really are – just a scared little boy/girl (to quote the book). There is a part of me that can relate to these thoughts but mostly I would say my hometown is a place that holds treasured memories. I might need to reflect on this a bit more! How would you describe your relationship with the place where you grew up? Do you recognize some of the dynamics he describes?
What an intriguing story! Can’t wait to discover where it will take us! See you in the comments!
August 25th: The Deal of a Lifetime Part 2- From page 34 (the line “I failed with you. Fathers are meant to teach their sons about life, but you were a disappointment.”) to the end of the book