Whatever Fredrik Backman writes, I will always read. I’ll even buy a brand new copy, which I don’t often do; I usually get my books from the library, and if I do buy them, I try to buy them used.
Backman’s works are always worth the expense to me, because he writes with such hard-hitting honesty and gentle humor. His characters seem so real, I can’t help feeling like I know them. His stories are intensely relatable, without the drummed-up drama and over-the-top tragedy characteristic of so many bestsellers.
Most of all, he writes like he’s a part of the club–the one that no one wants to be a part of. He writes like someone who has lost someone. He writes like he knows grief.
The Deal of a Lifetime is different than most of his other works, though, in part because it is a novella rather than a full-length novel. I read the book in about an hour, and that was with interruptions from my kids!
The novella also lacks both the heart-wrenching tragedy that has so moved me and the hopeful sense of humor that I have found so redemptive in his longer works.
The Deal of a Lifetime does pull on the heartstrings, but in a way that is less about devastating loss and more about deep regret. Rather than being filled with grief, The Deal of a Lifetime is pervaded with an aching melancholy over mistakes made and opportunities missed.
The nameless narrator is a man who has sacrificed his family time and time again for business. He has traded countless opportunities with his son for more wealth and status. He has become successful, rich, and famous…but now he’s dying.
The novella is a letter he writes to his son.
“I remembered the steps,” he says, “outside the house where you and your mother lived, and all the times you had sat there waiting for me when I didn’t turn up like I’d promised. All the occasions I’d wasted your time.”
It’s the day before Christmas, and the man has stumbled across an opportunity for redemption, a way to, just maybe, make the right choice and sacrifice the right thing for the right reasons. His opportunity for redemption comes in the form of a five-year-old girl.
He writes a letter to his son, trying to apologize for years of hurt and disappointment. He has to tell him about the little girl and the choice he has to make. He has to make things right.
I won’t tell you anymore, because with a story this short, I’d start to give too much away. Trust me when I say that The Deal of a Lifetime doesn’t disappoint, except perhaps in being over disappointingly brief.
Even in his brevity, or perhaps because of it, Backman creates a powerful story. This tiny snapshot imprints itself the memories of its readers and drives them to ask themselves about what sacrifices they make…and for what return?