“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” – Fredrick Backman, Anxious People
First things first, Fredrick Backman’s Anxious People reminded me that we’re all a bunch of idiots. I’m not joking! Backman’s voice may take getting used to for some. It wasn’t what I’d expected—it’s a bit eccentric, a bit like rambling, a bit all over the place. But the witty, perhaps hyperbolic humor of his narration was a breath of fresh air in that it made me laugh. In the middle of a pandemic, the strangely light-hearted take on a failed bank robbery turned hostage story was a pleasant surprise. If you want to call it a hostage story; hostages don’t often order pizza, but these ones did, and it was one of the funniest passages of a book I’ve read in a long time. Whatever you want to call it, I found myself reading a story about unusual yet relatable characters who were called idiots by both each other and the very person who created them. This may seem insulting, or maybe even rude (especially considering the fact that I just noted these characters as relatable), but it all served to help illustrate some of the book’s takeaways: We’re all just figuring out this whole life thing as we go. We all make mistakes. We all just want to be able to breathe at the end of the day.
By ultimately reminding me of these points, Backman makes an eclectic cast and a quirky story surprisingly human. The characters are all 110% themselves—imagine your quirks magnified. And they’re all judging each other quite obviously. But between the quirks are these notes, sprinkled atop the witty prose, about being human that we can all relate to. I may not be from Stockholm. I may not have saved a woman from jumping off a bridge. And I may not crash weddings with a rabbit head on (you just need to read it to get it). But, like most people, I can relate to not feeling like there’s enough time. To doing something I wish I hadn’t. To not feeling good enough. Backman’s world of anxious people reminded me that I’m not alone in this. None of us are.
Inspiring themes are sometimes good enough on their own, but paired with the quick-paced, short-chaptered, thriller-esque plot, Anxious People was an enjoyably quick read. I don’t think I’ve devoured a book this quickly since the Harry Potter series! I should note, however, that when I say thriller, and when I describe a hostage situation, I don’t mean to imply that this book is, should I say, scary. Yes, there are hostages. Kind of. But the story isn’t suspenseful in the sense that you might expect with a bank robbery, murder mystery, and hostage situation all tied together. It’s just strange (in a good way). It’s funny. It’s poignant. Perhaps more importantly, and most thriller-esque, I genuinely wanted to know what happened next, maybe even more so than in the last thriller I read!
My only possible critique—I liked Backman’s rambling voice, so I don’t view it as a negative—involves the post-hostage-situation interviews containing dialogue between a police officer, his colleague father, and each of the hostages, interwoven between the normal chapters. I liked the idea more than I initially thought I would. The interviews aided the character building and proved even better in the end (again, you just have to read it to understand why), but I didn’t see any rhyme or reason as to where they were placed. Oftentimes, what was being discussed in the interviews related to what was happening currently with the hostages in the main plot, which made sense. But I felt as though I’d read some sections with several interviews and others with none at all. Perhaps I’m just a bit too type A, but I found myself wondering if there could have been more symmetry in the placement of these interviews.
In total honesty though, I may just be looking for a critique to make it seem like I have something valuable to say, so that it doesn’t seem like I’m just gushing about a book. But Anxious People, in my opinion, is worth gushing about. Maybe I just like apartment viewings. Or maybe I found it funny to imagine someone getting hit in the face with an airborne lime. Either way, thank you, Backman, truly, for reminding me that we’re all just a bunch of idiots.
I look forward to reading more books by Fredrick Backman soon—let me know if you have a favorite!