Backman’s Novel Offers Great Escape

It’s a rather simple story, one that’s been shared for centuries. There’s the grumpy old man who thrives on law and order, a few peculiar personalities who live in chaos and confusion, and the not-so-subtle cataclysmic clash, as the Swedish suburbanites must learn to love thy neighbor as thyself.
Author Fredrik Backman brings to life A Man Called Ove. Ove is the curmudgeon, the miser, the killjoy. But he also has a story, one that intertwines sweetness with sadness. It’s a story that shakes its finger at fate, wondering why life deals such a heartless hand to a man called Ove.
He’s an orphan at 16 but refuses to cash his father’s paycheck because the work had not been completed. Ove is uncomplicated and straightforward. Of the basic life lessons his father subtly taught him, one was to remember that a job well done is a reward in its own right. No need for flashy trophies or celebratory affairs.
“The transformation of his life captured me, but I did find myself frustrated with his grumpiness. I wanted to yell at him and say ‘Just get over it’, but then the rest of his story unfolded and it was easier to see why he was the way he was,” offered one reader.
Even before he was twenty years old, Ove is using his hands, his math skills, tools and trappings that made sense to him. He rebuilt his parents’ house from top to bottom. It became a beacon for him. And when the traveling insurance salesman in the white shirt suggested he protect his investment, it seemed like a wise idea. But why, oh why did Ove pay cash?
When fire destroyed what Ove had built with his own two hands, the man in the white shirt was nowhere to be found. The author’s creative prose refers to “men in white shirts” often in the novel. They’re the kind of men that disobey road signs, park where they please, and never have time for Ove, even when he jumps through their hoops and completes their dozens of documents.
Eventually, Ove will take matters into his own hands. He will build the wheelchair ramp for his wife. He will lower the countertops to accommodate her needs. He will do anything for her. After all, before her, there really wasn’t a him.
Ove insists that his world was black and white until Sonja brought color into it. He says he never really lived before her. And even after the accident, when plans and dreams screeched to a halt, it was Sonja who affirmed that they should “get on with living or get on with dying”.
“Ove’s story had something for everyone. I related on a lot of different levels. In so many ways, he never got a break, and yet, he was a grouch to everyone! When his Iranian neighbors backed over the yard signs, I was laughing out loud!” giggled another reader.
The colorful cast of characters, who reside in the neighborhood where Ove and Sonja bought their smart, tidy home nearly four decades ago, adds depth to Ove’s code of conduct.
He is known for his perfectionist principles and short fuse. He’s called a bitter neighbor, but once a few layers of the onion are peeled, the cranky exterior gives way to an interior that’s been bruised by life.
“I laughed when the loud mouths moved in across the street,” said one reader. “Then I cried when Ove visited his wife’s grave and my heart broke for his many losses.” Yet he just kept putting one foot in front of the other in a blind trust sort-of-way. Eventually, those sightless steps led Ove to discover the gifts he had to share with the world. In return, he was able to receive in ways he rarely thought possible.
And then there’s the cat, not just any cat, but the cat, that nudges its way into the life of Ove and his unkempt neighbors.
For Ove to transform in his later years, and find joy in buying a little neighbor girl an “o-pad” (his name for ipad), is nothing short of miraculous. A Man Called Ove may serve as a beach read, a charming book for a rainy spring day, and an all-around worthy read.