Title: Anxious People.
Writer(s): Fredrik Backman.
Publisher: Atria Books.
Format: Advance Review Copy.
Release Date: September 8th, 2020.
Genre(s): Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery, Humour.
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆.
Far too often in my life, I have walked through a crowd wondering about the lives of every single person around me. Where are they going? What have they got planned for their day? What was there childhood like? Have they ever been on the other side of the law? What kind of problems are they dealing with these days? That’s when I realized that sometimes we just have it easier than others. Sometimes, all we can do is be kind to everyone as we remain oblivious to their personal suffering. Author Frederik Backman (A Man Called Ove, Beartown) now returns to pull at our heartstrings with an unusual mystery-comedy that invites us to discover the bizarre and conflicted lives of a couple of strangers as circumstances unite them to an unexpected and life-changing reunion.
What is Anxious People about? During an open house event, eight anxious strangers find themselves held hostage by a bank robber who isn’t exactly up for the task. As the situation quickly defuses thanks to their naturally chatty behaviours, they end up discovering that they might have far more things in common than they thought they would. However, the arrival of the police and the media complicates their predicament. While they try and identify the culprit behind this incident, the bank robber now has to decide between facing the consequences or dealing with the psychotic personalities stuck in that apartment.
“Worst hostages ever. You’re the worst hostages ever.”
— Fredrik Backman
Let me start off by saying that this started off rough. Not only does the author actively play around with the timeline, going back and forth between the past, present, and future events, this narrative puzzle is also interspersed with witness interviews, although those verbatim are entertaining if not annoying as you watch witnesses being uncooperative and pretentious with the police, making it that much harder for readers to connect with the characters. While this isn’t a flaw in itself, it’s when you factor in the personality of each and every character that things can get complicated at first. I won’t lie that I felt emotionally drained by how obnoxious some of these characters were. Add in the fact that the author added a couple too many characters who could’ve been cut from the narrative, it was tough to really grasp how this could all work out in the end. But fret not. This author’s reputation precedes him and he wraps things up as good as anyone possibly could.
If there’s one thing that really struck me with this story is its absolute quirkiness. I couldn’t tell if it was me or these characters, but they often rubbed off me wrong with their over-eccentricity and over-zealousness. I had to suspend my disbelief to let a couple of plot elements pass but it’s the final act that really allowed this story to bloom and send its message through its exploration of various themes, from divorce to suicide. While I was on the verge of abandoning any hope for this story to pick up its pace and solve the puzzle at the heart of this comedy-mystery, the author found a way to reach deep within my heart, to grasp it softly with both hands, and to smoothly comfort me with the complexity of human nature and our ability to show kindness to strangers.
Anxious People is a quirky and captivating tale exploring the kindness of humans in our most desperate times.