A Man Called Ove – 3 Stars

As I close A Man Called Ove, I have to admit the ending was the strongest, most emotive portion of Fredrik Backman‘s 2014 novel.

Ove, the narrator,  is a stubborn man learning to navigate a life without​ his wife – an enduring marriage suddenly half empty – now missing her love and her laugh. The reader is walked through how Ove tries to redefine his days, whether by living them or not.

I found myself a bit surprised that the book I’ve been carting around reading is, in fact, an international best seller. Ove is an only mildly complex character – a grumpy, fatigued, lonely and obviously depressed man – newly widowed. While these traits were obvious, Ove and his fellow characters were, in my opinion, only shallowly developed.

Even halfway through A Man Called Ove, I would have expected the novel to have been shelved in the Young Adults section rather than in Fiction alongside the classics. Not to say that incredible reads aren’t lined up neatly with the Young Adults books – quite the opposite. I say this simply as a reflection on the style of writing.

Beyond my criticism, A Man Called Ove was an entertaining read with the necessary pits, arcs, and triumphs that every reader expects. The story structure is intact, if leaving, for me, something to be desired.


Rating: 3 out 5 stars

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4 stars: Men We Reaped – by Jesmyn Ward

Men We Reaped is the second book penned by Jesmyn Ward that I’ve read. And recently. For a reason.

My expectations were scattered:

  • Could it possibly live up to Ward’s incredible work in Salvage the Bones?
  • As a memoir, what themes will Ward weave through her writing that were or weren’t present in her other writing I’ve explored?
  • I know that she’s overwhelmed and passionate about racial equality – how will that be evoked?
  • The first word of the title is “men” – but it’s Ward’s memoir. Why?

In short: Ward didn’t disappoint. She explains from the get go precisely how she’s constructed the memoir, the order of chapters, the reasoning for the order… all without revealing just where she’s going or why.

She uses each chapter to reveal a section of time in her life and a relationship with a man that meant something to her – friends, acquaintances, her own brother. She’ll break your heart but you’ll learn something: about the narrator; about the racial divide in America in the 70s, 80s, and 90s; and quite possibly about yourself as well.

She loses these men – these incredible life connections – to drugs, accidents, poverty, and horrid luck. Ward pushes past these themes though in order to move beyond her grief, and to define her community and the mindset of a generation.


Rating: 4 of 5 stars