Anxious People by Fredrik Backman, Neil Smith
Published by Atria Books
Publication date: September 8, 2020
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction
In my post about the fall books I was ready to read I made special note of my excitement about Fredrik Backman’s new book, Anxious People. The novel is about a group of eight people held hostage by a bank robber. I was interested because the bank robber failed at his job and the people he held hostage were so whiny and annoying he thought surrendering to police might be a better idea. A premise that sounded fun, kind of like Wednesday’s review of American Royals. Sadly, that didn’t quite pan out.
Set in a small city in Sweden the cast of Anxious People is largely comprised of characters who would strain the patience of a saint. The robber is hapless and the victim of a perfect storm of misfortune, but everyone else is either outright rude or feels like a punchline in a stale joke. The novel briefly touches down at pivotal points in each of their lives, but largely takes place inside the apartment where the victims are held captive while in the midst of an open house. They are a supercilious wealthy banker, a bickering older couple who renovate apartments, an actor they hired to dissuade other potential buyers, a heavily pregnant young woman and her wife, and an elderly widow. We also meet a father and son police duo investigating the situation.
Each of the characters has a backstory, which makes for a lot of human drama. Often it begins with humor while Backman carefully ladles in heavier, more heartfelt emotions. As always, he wraps up this multitude of stories neatly by the end of the novel. Unfortunately, to do so he wanders out on a slender of limb of credulity that breaks under its own weight.
How then to sum up Anxious People? My overwhelming feeling while reading the novel was of an audition. As if Backman were a first-time performer who panicked and threw more and more material at the audience to try and win them over. It made the novel cluttered, frenetic, and, at times silly. He frontloads metaphors to provoke an immediate reaction. I wanted to say, “Stop! Ease up on the throttle—you don’t need to do this.” Because he is so good at getting at the heart of things not easy to consider, like
…we don’t want our children to pursue their dreams or walk in our footsteps. We want to walk in their footsteps while they pursue our dreams.
Which is to say: there is a kernel of tender humanity at the very center of Anxious People. I appreciated it, but did not enjoy what it took to get there.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Atria publishers in exchange for an honest review.*