by Fredrik Backman
Published by: Atria Books
Publish Date: 2020
Genre(s): Fiction, Contemporary, Mental Health
HB&W Rating: 3
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Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can’t fix up their own marriage. There’s a wealthy banker who has been too busy making money to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can’t seem to agree on anything, from where they want to live to how they met in the first place. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment’s only bathroom, and you’ve got the worst group of hostages in the world.
Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them—the bank robber included—desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises, these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in a motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.
Humorous, compassionate, and wise, Anxious People is an ingeniously constructed story about the enduring power of friendship, forgiveness, and hope—the things that save us, even in the most anxious of times.
Synopsis source: Goodreads
If you look up this book in my profile, you’ll see one of the shelves I assigned it to was “against my better judgement.” Here’s why. The first book I read by this author was Beartown. I really disliked it. The second book I read by this author, and only because I had heard SO many good things about it, was A Man Called Ove. I LOVED it. And so I found myself in a 50/50 split, and I have never been so torn on an author.
When several people recommended Anxious People to me, I had my reservations. A Man Called Ove had a certain magic that is extremely difficult to replicate, and I really didn’t think Anxious People could be on the same level, but I read it anyway hoping to break that 50/50 split and definitively lean one way or the other on Backman as a writer. After reading this book, I’m still 50/50. Let me break that down.
The first half of the book essentially made me hate almost every character. Even before he started calling everyone idiots with increasing regularity, my feelings toward the characters was that all of them were either idiots or assholes, and in some cases both. I didn’t find any of them very sympathetic except for the bank robber, and even then I wanted to scream at times.
The overt theme of the book was anxiety, and I was prepared and hoping for an in-depth portrait of this mental disease. While Backman talked a lot about anxiety throughout the book both peripherally and directly, his illustration of the topic felt shallow to me and not very well-developed. Triggers: suicide, addiction.
While the identity of the bank robber is a mystery, and we are attempting to discover what happened throughout the book, I wouldn’t call this book “mystery” and certainly wouldn’t call it “thriller.” I found the plot very predictable and at times didn’t care what happened. I mostly kept listening (I borrowed the audiobook from my library and the reader does a pretty good job) because I had a big order I was crocheting and needed something to listen to while I worked and I had nothing better. I also found the writing to have the same sort of pretentiousness that was all over Beartown, and I had a hard time not rolling my eyes at it every other 10 minutes.
What the story did well was humor, humanity, and representation. There’s a certain tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic, deprecating humor throughout the book that actually had me smirking or outright laughing out loud. While I wouldn’t classify this book in the “humor” genre, it was a welcome reprieve from some of the heavier topics.
I also liked how even though the first half of the book you see each of the characters as all idiots, by the end of the story, you have a newfound empathy for them. It is utterly human to make mistakes, sometimes colossal mistakes that make idiots out of us, but we ALL make them at some point in our lives. What touched me was the amount of empathy the characters showed toward one another, particularly among the hostages, who were complete strangers.
Lastly, there were a lot of great things represented here. There were women in positions typically held by males, there was an elderly woman talking about things and drinking like no grandmas are ever portrayed as doing, a lesbian couple having a baby, retired empty-nesters with marriage problems. The entire cast was diverse and relatable. I would have liked to see more people of color, but aside from that, well done there.
The entire book was rather predictable, but I don’t think that was the point. I believe the point of this story is the characters, but since I spent the first half of the book disliking them, I can’t decide if their redemption by the end tips the scales in favor of Blackman in my eyes or not, so I’m left feeling pretty torn on this book and my 50/50 split remains intact.
Have you read this one? What did you think?
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