One of the many delightful features of Fredrik Backman’s bestselling novel is his frequent use of apt similes and metaphors to paint vivid, miniature portraits of the cantankerous and lovable main character in A Man Called Ove.
the book Ove endures a hate-love relationship with a stray cat. During their first meeting, “Ove stomped forward. The cat stood up. Ove stopped. They stood there measuring up to each other for a few moments, like two potential troublemakers in a small-town bar” (p. 6).
On another occasion, Ove encountered a driver in a Mercedes who tailgated him. After the driver passed him, Ove had the pleasure of tailgating the Mercedes in return at the next stoplight. Glares and gestures were exchanged. When they unexpectedly ended up in the same parking lot, Ove took the opportunity to block his adversary so a third car could have the last parking spot. Ove then “stepped out of the Saab triumphantly, like a gladiator who had just slain his opponent” (p. 31).
When the taciturn Ove meets the father of Sonja, his fiancée, he encounters his match in reticence. In a supreme effort to make conversation, Ove offers to see about fixing the old man’s car. “The two men looked at each other for a moment. Then Sonja’s father nodded. And Ove nodded curtly back. And then they rose to their feet, objective and determined, in the way two men might behave if they had just agreed to go and kill a third man” (p. 155).
We delight in the surprising absurdity of the metaphor. Yet it is dead on target. Why? While two men fixing a car together may seem trivial compared to deciding to kill someone, that is precisely Backman’s point. Given their supreme reserve, for Ove and the old man to engage in this minimally interpersonal activity is in fact a grave and desperate act.
The serious side of this dramatic-comic novel appropriately pairs with its hopeful dimension. Perhaps the number one cause of suicide is undiagnosed depression. And perhaps the most frequent factor in depression is inadequate connection to others. The novel reminds us that we can have a key role in each life we touch. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to help them. Sometimes it can be more important to ask them to help us.