The Seconds We Are Given {Book Club}

The Seconds We Are Given {Book Club}

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

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

9 Comments

  1. Sarah Hilkemann August 19, 2020

    I love how different this book is from the last one!

    I can’t imagine facing the end and not knowing God! You are right, Bayta, how different the story would have been if he had understood grace and hope. I also like that you highlighted the aspect of hometowns. I returned to my hometown from overseas, something I didn’t think I would do once I left for college (a permanent return anyway!), and instead of struggling with small town dynamics and the lack that I felt as a teenager, this place felt safe and quiet and a good place for healing. I have always found place to be an important part of my story, and I think it is part of who we are.

    1. Bayta Schwarz August 19, 2020

      I’ve not lived in my hometown as an adult so love hearing about your experience, Sarah! Place is such an interesting concept particularly if you’ve called several of them home, and they all become part of who you are. Sometimes trying to honour that feels like quite juggling act! Not sure I do that super well.

  2. Amy Young August 19, 2020

    I took this book up to the mountains for a weekend with my family . . and it was passed around and read by three of us :). Backman is a master story teller!!! I keep thinking with each book how I wish he could communicate the gospel this way . . . and how I wish I were a better witer/this type of writer to be able to tell better stories 🙂

    1. Bayta Schwarz August 19, 2020

      Oh wouldn’t that be wonderful (what you said about Backman)?! And I loved that you passed the book around! Yay for short novellas that make that possible!

  3. Phyllis August 20, 2020

    My husband got this one for me around Christmas time, and it really makes a good Christmas read, even if it isn’t a Christmas book per se.

    What I love about Backman and his grumpy or obviously flawed characters is that they actually make me look at the real people around me with more grace and interest. His fictional characters are so real, that they make me see what there is to love and appreciate in people who might be hard to love at first sight.

    1. Bayta Schwarz August 20, 2020

      That’s such a great way of putting it, Phyllis! I completely agree!

  4. Amanda August 21, 2020

    I love reading books from a secular perspective because they remind me of the importance of sharing Jesus well. As Phyllis put it: “they actually make me look at the real people around me with more grace and interest.” I was also intrigued by the emphasis of leaving a legacy, as if that is the point of life. “When five-year-old girls die, no one writes about that, there aren’t any memorials in the evening papers, their feet are too small, they haven’t had time to make anyone care about their footsteps yet.” It brings the Gospel into a different light for me–Jesus’ legacy is what gives us purpose and hope, even when tragedies take babies who might not seem to have left much of a footprint on earth.

    1. Bayta Schwarz August 21, 2020

      I love your observations, Amanda! That’s a great perspective on legacy! The legacy we leave (and for better or worse, as soon as our life touches another, we do leave a legacy) should really just be a reflection of Jesus’ legacy.

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