Book Title: The Deal Of A Lifetime
Author: Fredrik Backman
REVIEWED BY: CHELSEA
Genres: Novella, Holiday Fiction, Family
Pub Date: 10/31/17
It all begins with a father telling a story to his son on Christmas Eve. But this isn’t your typical Christmas story. The father admits to his son that he’s taken a life but he won’t say whose—not yet.
One week earlier, in a hospital late at night, the man met a five-year-old girl with cancer. She’s a smart kid—smart enough to know that she won’t beat cancer by drawing with crayons all day, but it seems to make the adults happy, so she keeps doing it.
As the man tells his son about this plucky little girl, he slowly reveals more about himself: while he may be a successful businessman, idolized by the media and his peers, he knows he failed as a parent. Overwhelmed by the responsibility of fatherhood, he took the easy way out and left his wife and little boy twenty years ago to pursue professional success. Now he is left wondering if it’s too late to forge a relationship with his son, who seems to be his opposite in every way—prizing happiness over money, surrounded by loving friends in a cozy town where he feels right at home.
Face to face with the idea that something is missing, the man is given the unexpected chance to do something selfless that could change the destiny of the little girl in the hospital bed. But before he can make the deal of a lifetime, he needs to find out what his own life has actually been worth in the eyes of his son. And so, he seeks him out and tells him this story…
“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?”
What an opening! As a longterm reader of Backman I’ve become accustomed to staying perched on my toes; you never quite know what you’ll be getting when you step into his version of reality. Will it be the whimsical, heartwarming atmosphere of A Man Called Ove? Will it be the dark, timely, and poignant world of Beartown? Honestly, I felt this brief story fell somewhere in between. It wasn’t quite as heavy as his last full size novel, but it felt a little more sombre than Ove did. Backman tells us in the introduction that this was a short story originally posted in his local paper, was written around Christmas of 2016, and means a great deal to him. In fact, I felt the introduction was just as important as the fictional story that followed, so I beg of you, PLEASE don’t skip it.
“Does it make a difference if I killed a good person? A loved person? A valuable life? If it was a child?”
I’m going to avoid talking about the plot as much as possible, but I’d like to touch on why I enjoyed this read so immensely. This is a love story, an apology, and a reckoning, if you will. Only Backman can provide us with 65 pages of narrative, with no character names and so little detail, and STILL take our breath away. The idea behind this story is simultaneously a tale as old as time and a wholly new idea. The Deal Of A Lifetime is a classic holiday theme told from a unique perspective that I’ve not encountered before.
“You might be all rich and powerful now. And maybe you do come home with expensive watches and fancy clothes. But you can’t fool me, because I know who you really are. You’re just a scared little boy.”
^^^ This is a common theme across all Backman fiction, but it never becomes unimportant or less emotional. I truly believe one of the reasons he has become such a beloved author across a vast audience is his sheer talent at portraying the emotion behind growing up, the meaning behind the word “home”, and how it changes permanently in ways both good and bad over time. Paired with the fact that this fabulous story has a gorgeous cover and lovely full color illustrations throughout, I would heartily agree with Goodreads reviewer Diane S. in her statement that this book presents as “an adult fable”. If you’re looking for an alternative to the cheesy or romantic holiday tales, I urge you to pick up a copy of The Deal Of A Lifetime, whether it be from your bookstore or your local library.
*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my copy. Don’t forget to add Backman’s upcoming sequel to Beartown to your To-Be Read list on Goodreads, titled Us Against You (out June 2018)!