May 2017 – A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Of Curmudgeons, OCD, and Geese
Blog by Cindy Bushey
Not everyone has a gregarious gene in their DNA, but most people secretly harbor the idea that if the world would just listen to what they were saying it would be a better, well-organized place. However, as one of our members pointed out, by the time we attain a certain age the realization hits that no one is EVER going to listen to our opinions or recognize their value. So, we view the world with a jaundiced eye and have our realizations confirmed and our views justified by every news article or bureaucratic decision lacking common sense or logic. We have now become certified curmudgeons! If we are not yet in that august society, we most likely have family members or friends who qualify. That familiarity made the title character of May’s selection A Man Called Ove resonate with Zion’s readers.
Ove is a middle-aged man who embodies traits that today would likely cause an Asperger’s syndrome or Obsessive/Compulsive disorder diagnosis. He sees the world in black and white, likes unvarying routine, spends a long time considering ideas from all angles before acting, unfailingly checks three times that doors are locked. As a reader suggested, Ove is an equal-opportunity hater of mankind and refreshingly politically incorrect. He is taciturn to the nth degree and uncomfortable with emotions, and yet he had the great luck to find a woman who, though his complete opposite in temperament, saw the great heart buried inside him and agreed to be his wife. She colors his world and enables him to interact with it. Their story is told through his eyes in a disconcerting pattern from present to past and back again in a very methodical recounting that some of our readers felt interfered with their reading enjoyment. Others appreciated the slow character development and storyline. All felt more drawn to the novel once the back story was fully explained.
Life throws some wicked curves at Ove and his wife, and suddenly he is left alone with nothing to color his world. Through his dialogue with his dead spouse, readers can see that Ove has a strong theology of the afterlife but no other religious beliefs to sustain him. Lost in loneliness and with no discernible (to him) reason for living, Ove plans to leave this life. Unfortunately for him, life is not yet done with Ove. His world is upset again by the advent of new younger neighbors with small children. The family constantly annoys him and interrupts his plans. The wife, who is a small, pregnant, whirling bundle of energy, invades his space constantly and forces him to help her with all sorts of tasks. Parvaneh, despite the Iranian name meaning butterfly, bulldozes Ove’s defenses and brings him back to life although he mentally kicks and screams the whole way. It is truly a story of resurrection as one of our members pointed out and therefore appropriate for spring and Easter. Through this woman’s efforts, Ove will eventually find renewed purpose, connect with old friends, and gain a new family.
The sometimes choppy, methodical writing style mimics Ove’s deliberate approach to all things and was a turn-off for some readers. Others appreciated both it and the wry humor laced throughout the book so much that they laughed out loud while reading. Ove’s tilting at bureaucratic windmills delighted some of us, and others liked the imagery of the little guy taking on Goliath. While one reader saw parallels between Scrooge’s ghosts and the implied but unseen hand of Ove’s wife in his hijacked suicide attempts, others felt the book seemed lengthy and had hoped for a plot beyond the everyday. However, this novel was a journey of an everyday man from the depths of despair and loneliness back to the light of day. It was authentic – people can be scarred irreparably from life events and loneliness. Not all are lucky enough to have a Parvaneh to make them a restoration project. And loneliness is not just indigenous to our species! One reader shared the story of two China White geese, a matching pair, that lived in harmony on their farm. When the female was accidentally killed by a passing automobile, the gander morphed into this mountain of fury that would rush at cars on the road and hiss at them with all his energy. He became quite well-known for his stalling maneuvers on the local byway, so much that motorists stopped to inquire about his whereabouts after he met his end. Who is to say that he was not simply crying out from a well of pain and loneliness after the loss of the being that colored his world?
Ove never loses his curmudgeonly characteristics, and he still checks the doors three times when locking them, but he lives in harmony (for the most part) with his neighbors and belongs again in a family. Some readers felt this novel qualified as a feel-good book due to the ending. Others felt it was a wonderful progression. It remains popular in local libraries, even needing to be reserved long after its publishing date. As it was made into a movie, that popularity might be explained. But the book can really rest on its own laurels despite not being universally liked in our small group. Thanks to the divergence of opinion among our readers, we had a rousing discussion with animated conversation that makes a great experience and is why we all belong to Zion’s readers! Our voting found two members giving the book one thumb down, one member neutral, one just a nudge above that with a half-knuckle vote, three members rating it one thumb up, and seven members saying it deserved two thumbs up. We will be closing out this year’s sessions with our June meeting, reading Before the Fall (see details in the church bulletin or on the church website). We’d love to have more readers join us; reading and exchanging opinions can take us down paths to new worlds on an awakening journey akin to Ove’s. Or at least to an appreciation of the curmudgeons among us!