By Fredrik Backman
Is it possible for a book to be at once heart-wrenching yet heart-warming, improbable yet realistic, farcical yet deeply, utterly human? If so, Fredrik Backman’s Anxious People has done just that. Anxious People follows a group of people who, while attending an apartment open house, find themselves held hostage by an unlikely bank robber. Don’t worry, they make it out – and this is not a spoiler, as this is where the story begins.
Though what happens within the apartment walls is the plot’s focal point, the book is not about being held captive: at least, not literally. Instead, this is a story about each person that finds themselves there on that day, and indeed, the secrets keeping them trapped within themselves. We meet a couple considering the apartment as their next project – just another distraction from a marriage that is falling apart. We meet a second couple looking for the perfect home in which to raise their first child, though neither seems ready for either home ownership or parenthood. We meet an elderly woman who claims to be viewing the apartment for her daughter, though the truth appears to be far more solemn, and a bank director seeking the perfect place to die. Finally, we meet the bank robber, who epitomizes being in the wrong place at wrong time – not only in the apartment, but, ultimately, beyond.
This book is spell-binding, perhaps because there is something within each character that is so relatable. Though I found myself laughing aloud throughout (there are certainly points of sheer ridiculousness), this is a story about loss: of that which we let go of willingly, and that which we cannot control. This is a story about aspects of life that we allow to define us, as letting them go may mean redefining who we are. Above all, though, this is a story of hope. Backman expresses, yes, how we sometimes find ourselves facing someone who reflects to us what we most fear about ourselves. Anxious People suggests that sometimes our biggest fear is staring us right in the face and all we need to do is look up. But when we do look up, and we see someone who understands, that can be exactly what we need to begin moving forward. If you are looking for both a hearty belly laugh and a mirror of your own humanness, Anxious People could be your stellar next read.