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Art and Culture

Likely Stories: Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman


Heartfelt novella of a man dealing with his conscience

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

One of the most interesting literary finds in the last couple of years came from Fredrik Backman.  He has written five interesting novels with a large measure of humor along with some pathos and a measure of thought-provoking reflections.  The Deal of a Lifetime is a story I found quite moving as I am heading into my senior years.

This story begins on Christmas Eve.  According to the book jacket, “A father and a son are meeting together for the first time in many years.  The father has a story he needs to share before it is too late.  As he tells his son about a courageous little girl lying in a hospital bed a few miles away, he reveals even more about himself: his triumphs in business, his failures as a parent, his past regrets, his hopes for the future.  //  Now, on the night before Christmas, the father has been given an unexpected chance to do something remarkable that could change the destiny of [the] little girl he hardly knows.” 

Backman offers a few words before the story begins.  He wrote, “This is a story about what you would be prepared to sacrifice in order to save a life.  If it was not only your future on the line, but also your past. […] who would you give yourself up for?”  It is my custom to avoid dust jackets, Introductions, and other hints about a story until I have read the story for myself. 

At first, I was perplexed, fearing some dreadful catastrophe--or perhaps the death of the child.  But what I read was a story that consumed my feelings for these characters.  Backman wrote, “Hi.  It’s your dad.  You’ll be waking up soon, it’s Christmas Eve morning in Helsingborg, and I’ve killed a person.  That’s not how fairy tales usually begin, I know.  But I took a life.  Does it make a difference if you know whose it was?”  (1).  Fredrik continues, “She was five.  I met her a week ago.  There was a small red chair in the hospital TV room, it was hers.  It wasn’t red when she arrived, but she could see that it wanted to be.  It took twenty-two boxes of crayons but that didn’t matter, she could afford it, everyone here gave her crayons all the time.  As though she could draw away her illness, color away the needles and the drugs.  She knew that wasn’t possible, of course, she was a smart kid, but she pretended for their sakes.  So she spent her days drawing on paper, because it made all of the adults happy.  And at night, she colored in the chair.  Because it really wanted to be red” (3).  This passage so affected me, I wasn’t sure I wanted—or could—continue reading.  I put the book aside in order to decide what I would do.  Several days later, I restarted reading again,

One night, “The door to the corridor was ajar, and I could hear the girl talking to her mother in the TV room.  They played the same game every night; when the hospital was so quiet that you could hear the snowflakes bouncing against the windows like good-night kisses, the mother whispered to the girl: ‘What are you going to be when you grow up?’  // The girl knew the game was for her mother’s sake, but she pretended it was for hers.  She laughed as she said, ‘doctor’ and ‘engineer,’ plus her perennial favorite: ‘space hunter’” (10). 

These excerpts are on only the first couple of pages of a seven-and-a-quarter inch by afive and-a-half inch book.  Frederik Bachman has penned a moving story I won’t soon forget.  The Deal of a Lifetime has affected me, and it has given me much to think about.  5 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!