Beartown, also by Fredrik Backman, was a rough read for me so I found myself stalling on Anxious People. I had peeked at the jacket summary but wasn’t convinced it wouldn’t wreak the same kind of emotional havoc. Reader, I was so so wrong and this is a strong contender for book of the year.
This review is going to lean hard into spoilers because I’m not sure how to process it without them but I’ll frontload with a non-spoilery summary. The book tells two stories side-by-side–a bank-robber turned hostage-taker traps a number of people at an apartment open house and later two policemen sort through the who-dun-it of it all. The whole thing is just brilliant.
I should be safe now. This book is an unreliable narrator chock full of unreliable narrators and it was so utterly my shit. I fully felt the frustration of the policemen conducting witness interviews and could not believe that everyone in this group could be so flipping dumb and dense and then I got the why and I LOVED IT ALL THE MORE. This is a book that calls for a reread when you finish it just so you can know the why all along and smirk along with all the witnesses giving the cops the runaround. It’s just so goddamn delightful.
And of course the big reveal that the bank robber is a woman which I am still kicking myself for not seeing coming. I also want to do a reread so I can see if they used masculine pronouns as a red herring or if it was just my internalized sexism that assumed an armed robber is a man because of course I assumed that, they usually are but also I shouldn’t have assumed that because all of the reasoning was so female-coded. She moved out of her apartment because she didn’t want to make a scene in front of her kids, she quietly left her job because she didn’t want to make a scene in front of her coworkers of course this character is a woman jesus christ. Anyway, it was deftly, beautifully done.
Then you get to the way it all wraps up and it’s just heartwarming. Find you someone you can swap books with in the elevator till the end.
That’s the power of literature, you know, it can act like little love letters between people who can only explain their feelings by pointing at other people’s.