A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

Two stars. Read in February 2019.

I don’t like Ove very much—the character or the book.

Rather, I don’t understand the near-universal insistence that this type of character is loveable. Because Ove is definitely a type, and while there’s no such thing as an unloveable person, that is an entirely separate issue from our indefatigable collective willingness to justify men who are assholes.

Ove is a combination of Dwight Schrute, Sheldon Cooper, and Hank Hill. He is petty, violent, small-minded, and mean-spirited. He literally dumps his best and only friend because the man bought a BMW, and that almost makes sense given that their relationship consisted of absolutely nothing beyond (1) standing around looking at their cars and (2) making life miserable for their neighbors, just because.

Completely aside from the fact that personal trauma isn’t a free pass to treat people like shit, Ove isn’t mean because horrible things have happened to him. He is the way he is from the beginning, before the horrible things happen—the kind of rigid person who sees the world in stark black and white, believes that rules equal morality, and goes out of his way to punish the most minor violation of the most arbitrary rule.

Basically, Ove is a white dude who thinks he’s the tragic hero of the world’s most noble battle, the Honest Man versus the Suits. He is an absolute dick to everyone around him, and his sad past does not nullify that fact. If you met him in real life, you would not find him loveable, because you wouldn’t be the conveniently tough, no-nonsense, infinitely patient person they always cast as the foil for this character. You’d be the poor retail employee being screamed at by a mean old man who doesn’t like things that weren’t invented when he was born.

I’m a huge proponent of giving people the benefit of the doubt and remembering that everyone is going through things we don’t know about. However. There is a significant difference between assuming the best of someone—an individual person—and just giving certain types of people a pass on their behavior. Harsh, violent men have spent all of history getting a pass. They don’t anymore.

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