August 11, 2016

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman


A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

4.5 stars: This book filled up my heart.

Ove is a man who believes things should be done a certain way. His way, actually. He does not back down from a fight (and often starts one), as a matter of principle. He does not waste electricity, money, or food. He obeys signs. He makes sure his neighbors are obeying the signs.

Ever since his wife passed away, he has stopped living. To make matters worse, he has been downsized from his job as well. Sure, he still makes his rounds in the neighborhood, but his heart is not in it. In fact, he has made plans to join his wife. Soon.

Then a new family moves in next door. He meets them as the husband backs a trailer over Ove's mailbox. This family can not seem to get it together, and they are not shy about asking for help--or to borrow tools--or for rides to the hospital. His plans to off himself will just have to wait. Then more neighbors intrude on his carefully ordered life. Before long, he is just too busy to do anything but live. Not that he's going to act happy about it, mind you. Oh, and that darn cat! Last thing he needs is a cat.

* * * * *
The only reason this book was not 5 stars for me, was because of the bad language. Cantankerous old Ove had quite the mouth on him. Other than that, though, it was so good! Ove reminded me of the many honorable, decent men whom I love--both of my grandfathers, my dad, my husband, my uncles, my brothers. Men for whom right is right and wrong is wrong. Period. Men who have figured out the one best way to do any given task, and expect others to do it the right way. Men who believe that women should be protected and defended, that anything built should be built to last, and that backing up a trailer is a necessary life skill. Hardworking men who put in a full day at work or in the fields, then come home to do more work at home, church, and in the neighborhood. Men who were taught by their fathers to be the way they are.

Surprisingly, I did not cry at the end. It was just so right. After I finished the book I had to savor it for several minutes before going to sleep.

Are you ready for some stories? After reading this book, I'm overflowing with stories. While many of the men in my life share some of Ove's traits, personality-wise he reminded me most of my Grandpa Fuller. Make yourself comfortable.

* * * * *
Re: There's a right way to do every task, including purchasing a car.

Ove held certain things to be inviolate: a Saab was the only car to drive, you don't leave messes behind for other people to clean up, and if you're going to do a thing, you do it right.

I remember sitting at the breakfast table with my Grandpa Fuller. He always drank one cup of peppermint tea with his breakfast--he grew the mint in his garden. There was a right way to do this, and every other way was wrong. He painstakingly showed me how to fill up the cup most of the way, then add some milk until it poured over into the saucer a little bit, add a spoonful of sugar, stir it, drink it down. Then drink the milk off the saucer. If I missed a step, or got them out of order, he corrected me!

My husband is very good at figuring out the most efficient/best way to do any given thing, from loading the dishwasher to putting in a floor. It's a gift.

Also, soon after graduating from college I bought my first used car, and drove it up to see family. Every one of my uncles that lived within 20 miles took it upon themselves to test-drive my car! Luckily, they approved. (phew!)

* * * * *
The scene where Ove and Rune intervene on behalf of the battered neighbor lady could have come from my own life.

I had been married about a year. One day, my husband and I heard sounds of a fight a few houses down. He and our neighbor both came out of the house and stood together in the street. There was a man and a woman shouting and loud thumping-type sounds. These two good men started to walk towards the house when the man in question came slamming out of the door and took off in his car. I have no doubt in my mind that they would have intervened had the fight lasted any longer than it did.

We did not buy the woman a house, however. Just FYI.

* * * * *
Re: You don't waste good food.

Ove first endeared himself to me over the saffron chicken from the neighbors. Even though he was highly suspicious of it, he kept it anyway and eventually ate it, because you don't waste food. Yep, that's the way I was raised too.

As Grandpa got older, after Grandma had already passed away, his eyesight got really bad. So much so that he couldn't tell that his food had gone bad. My uncles who lived close by would come over to clean out his refrigerator and he would get really upset with all the "good food" they were throwing away. Finally, they started bringing along my cousins to act as decoys. The cousins would take Grandpa out into his garden, while their dads would quickly go through the fridge and throw all the moldy food into a big trash bag, which they would take directly out to their vehicle. That's the only way they could get it done.

Another time, when I was visiting Grandpa, there was this trout in the frying pan on the stove. It had been there for at least a few days. Both my mom and I tried to throw it away, but he would have none of that. He actually sat down and ate it for breakfast that very morning. Oh my goodness! Apparently, he had a cast-iron stomach, because as far as I could tell he was not any worse for the wear. You did not EVER waste food at Grandpa's house.

* * * * * *
Re: Nobody knows what quality is anymore; we live in a disposable society.

Okay, my husband says this ALL the time. It is so hard to find well-made items that last. He would rather pay more for something that's going to last.

* * * * * *
Re: A stoic man married to a lively woman.

So much about Ove and Sonja's relationship reminded me of my Grandpa and Grandma Fuller, Stanley and Sadie. He grew up working with his hands on the farm, and she was a lively, red-headed English teacher. (SEE!) Sometimes she would play practical jokes on him, that have since entered the realms of legend in our family. I will tell you two:

At one point in their marriage, Sadie felt that her husband was gone too long, working too many hours. So one night, she got out a set of his clothes and stuffed them with pillows and blankets. She put this homemade mannequin in bed next to her, then went to sleep. She woke up to her husband kicking the mannequin down the hallway, cussing. When he came roaring back into the bedroom, she said sweetly, "I was so lonely. I just needed a man to sleep beside me." You can bet he started coming home earlier after that!

Another time they were shopping in town, and she found a wig at one of the stores and bought it. I don't remember what color it was, but it was very different from her natural color. She let him go ahead a bit, put on the wig, then came up and took his arm. He did a double-take, then stopped right there and said he would not go one more step as long as she was wearing that wig! She had a good laugh before taking it off.

* * * * * *
Re: Letting people live with you, unexpectedly.

When Ove lets Mirsad in and gives him a place to stay in the middle of the night, I was nodding my head. Yes. Could totally see that happening.

You see, my parents have always been very generous this way. In fact, throughout my growing-up years I remember several different people living with us for months at a time. Two of them were my friends, actually, one of whom stayed about 9 months and the other for a year--both on rather short notice.

Once most of us kids were gone, at times it seemed they were running a hotel. At one point there was a family of 8 living in our basement (oh the stories!) There were men separated from their families for one reason or another, along with various and assorted others. I have lost track of all the people they've helped, but there have been many.

* * * * * *
Re: A man who can fix just about anything.

Hello. Meet my husband. Wiring, plumbing, engines--give him the right tools and some time, (perhaps a manual), and he can fix it. It just makes sense to him. On the other hand, before we got married, I sort of thought electricity was magical. You just flip the switch and voila! The lights go on! I had a lot to learn.

I loved the part where Ove and Sonja are on vacation, and while she naps, he goes around the neighborhood helping with projects. This is my husband! Every time we go to see either of our parents, my husband tells them to get out their list of projects! He spends his vacation time fixing things for them. He prefers it that way. He would truly rather be working than sitting around talking, any day. Incidentally, I do my share of vacation napping as well. So it all fits! :)

* * * * * *

Well, I had better stop there before I bore you completely. Can you see why I loved this book? Even though none of the men in my life are or were as perpetually cranky as Ove (thank goodness!), this story was familiar because I have lived it. Ove could be a member of my family. A family member for whom you overlook a few things for the sake of all the good underneath.

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