With Anxious People, Fredrik Backman, who also wrote A Man Called Ove, delivers another poignant and insightful novel about what it means to be decent (albeit “anxious”) people. He even threw in a few plot twists that took me by surprise. Well done, Mr. Backman! I’ll even forgive you for making me cry.
This is the second paragraph in Anxious People: “This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots. So it needs saying from the outset that it’s always very easy to declare that other people are idiots, but only if you forget how idiotically difficult being human is. Especially if you have other people you’re trying to be a reasonably good human being for.”
In fact, the characters in the story certainly have their annoying flaws, but they’re also dealing with very real human emotions that make them sympathetic – grief, loneliness, self-doubt, anxiety, regret. And many struggle with maintaining relationships with people they love. This includes father / son police officers who can’t be open with their feelings about each other, an older married couple trying to maintain purpose in their retirement, and a young couple nervous about being on the cusp of parenthood.
The main plot of the novel is that an incompetent bank robber, who tried to rob a cashless bank, flees from the police by running into a nearby apartment that’s having an open house. The bank robber then, mostly on accident, takes the prospective apartment buyers hostage. This is a motley group that doesn’t act like typical hostages. Instead of being afraid, they slowly befriend each other and then the bank robber, turning the hostage situation into a social event. As the bank robber says several times, “Worst hostages ever.”
As the story progresses, the layers of everyone’s lives are slowly peeled back, and as we learn more about them they become much more than the “idiots” we meet superficially in the early scenes. It’s also revealed that several of the characters are unknowingly linked to each other by a tragic event that happened a decade prior.
So that you don’t think Anxious People is overly serious, I have to say that I laughed many times at the dialog and circumstances. Fredrik Backman is a master at portraying the human condition, including the funny parts. But, yes, towards the end I got a little weepy, mostly in a good way. This book pushed many of my emotional buttons.
If you loved A Man Called Ove you’ll also enjoy Anxious People. It’s a very good book about people trying their hardest to be good people. In these times, just what the doctor ordered!
Have you read Anxious People? What did you think?
Thanks for the recommendation, George!