I think this might be the perfect novel to start the year, and it is certainly an excellent choice for the times we live in. For the CBR13 gift exchange, I listed Fredrik Backman as an author I would like to read, and Emmalita was kind enough to gift Anxious People to me. This novel is delightful. It’s frequently hilarious, with a truly daft kind of humor, but it also displays tremendous heart and kindness to the point of tears for me. The story does involve suicide, so consider that your trigger warning, but as the author writes on page one, it’s “a story about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots.” In other words, it is about each and every one of us, doing our best, screwing it up on the regular, but then getting up to try again.
This is a story about a bridge, and idiots, and a hostage drama, and an apartment viewing. But it’s also a love story. Several, in fact.
The story is set in a small town in Sweden that is not Stockholm, although Stockholm is the punchline for a good number of jokes. It is the day before New Years Eve, and a truly terrible bank robber (actually, a good person who just makes a few dumb choices) fails to rob a bank and runs across the street to hide. The robber interrupts an apartment viewing and pretty much has to take everyone hostage. This is NOT what the robber wanted and the hostages don’t really seem to know how to play their part very well at all! There’s a lesbian couple expecting their first baby, an older couple who like to buy and flip apartments, a goofy old lady named Estelle, a woman named Zara who is clearly too wealthy to be interested in the property, the real estate agent, and a “professional disrupter”. As they and the bank robber spend most of the day together, their backstories are revealed — some through conversations they have with one another, some through their inner monologue. Backman shows how idiotic they all are right off the bat, but then, as their stories come to light, we see that they are so much more than their flaws; they are anxious, insecure, loving, and courageous when they need to be. The local police are a father and son team who are not prepared for a hostage crisis and who have their own unresolved family/work issues to handle. Their interrogations are some of the funniest passages in the book. There are no “bad guys” in this novel, just ordinary people with everyday worries and a lot of love.
One of the messages that I really valued from this novel is that we have an impact on others that we might never really see or know. Letting someone know that you see them and care can make a world of difference. No matter how dire things might seem in the world or in our personal lives, we aren’t alone and we get another chance tomorrow. We’re all idiots muddling through. Backman, who lost a friend to suicide and has dealt with panic/anxiety himself, lists suicide prevention resources at the end of the novel. This is a lovely, funny, sweet, occasionally tear-jerky story, perfect for beginning a new year surrounded by idiots.