The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrick Backman is a fast paced, easy to read novella that combines Fredrick’s blunt styled quirky characters with the humor and mysticism of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. Backman never reveals the main character’s name, but the reader knows him as “Dad or Father”. The Father begins by writing a letter to his son, taking us through a short but vivid memory of his life. We (the readers) learn of the Father’s accomplishments as a well-known business man all the way to his short comings as a father. We learn that the Father was not the ideal parent and has regrets as to how he has raised his son. Time is short for Father due to the recent diagnosis of a rare form of cancer, (or so he thinks).
While in the hospital, the Father meets a brave little girl who puts on a happy face for her mother everyday (even though she too is dying from cancer). Low and behold the little girl has captured the Father’s heart and so when the woman in the grey sweater, with the folder and black pencil in hand comes to the little girl’s door, Father is heartbroken. Unfortunately, Father has seen this woman before (when all the people he has loved in his life have died) and he feels the urge to save the little girl. He snatches the folder, runs out the hallway and out of the hospital, into his car and hastily drives away. In despair, Father drives into a truck resulting in a obvious car crash. The woman in the grey sweater appears again to Father and he shouts “I can give you someone else to kill” (pg 51). Father says this in hopes of offering up his life to save the little girl, believing that the woman in the grey sweater is death itself. The woman in the grey sweater quickly explains that she is not death but rather a messenger and that one death cannot replace another death, but rather a life for a life. She explains to father that if he gives up his life for the little girl, not only would he die, but everything he has accomplished, worked for, created etc (including his son) would belong to someone else. It would be as though Father never existed, also meaning that his son would still be alive, but would have a completely different man as a father.
With wit and humor, the woman in the grey sweater brings Father to see his son (who works at an old bar in town that represents nothing but nostalgia) one last time before he comes to a conclusion of his fate. At the bar, Father sees that his son his content and upon talking to his son, the son actually expresses how he is happy for his Dad. Father ends up experiencing flash backs to when he never showed up for his son and to all the times he “failed” him. The son smiles, kisses his Dad on the cheek and wishes him “Merry Christmas, Dad” (pg 61) and goes into the bar kitchen. The Father’s heart breaks again, and he suddenly knows what the right decision is for him. Walking out of the bar with the woman in the grey sweater, Father proceeds to ask if the little girl will live and the woman in the grey sweater assures him that she will and that she will watch over his son. As Father and the woman in the grey sweater jump into the river between Helsingborg and Denmark, Father writes to his son “You’ll never read this. You’ve never sat waiting on the steps outside your mother’s house. I never wasted your time……You’ll wake up soon. It’s Christmas Eve morning. And I love you.” (pg 64/65).
Just like the Father, your heart breaks when you realize that he gave up his life and previous existence so not only could a little girl with cancer have a second chance at life, but so his son would never know the pain of a father not being there. He had the woman in grey take his life so his son could live a better life and a little girl can live. The Deal of a Lifetime reminds us once again of how parents always, at some point or another do a great sacrifice for their children and that time, no matter how much we think we have, is always fleeting and can never get it back. Make each day of your life count. A good novella to pull at your hearts and remind you to make good use of the time you have. (3.5 stars – liked it)