In Fredrik Backman’s novel Anxious People, a bank robbery gone wrong forces the perpetrator to flee into an apartment open house, turning the home viewing into a hostage crisis. Per the title, the hostages are anxious people. A motley crew, each carrying personal secrets, peculiar stories, and hidden pain. They are not only anxious, but also suspicious of one another at first, and tensions threaten to boil over. But as these strangers begin to bond over shared anxieties and reflections of their pasts, they grow to realize the bank robber might be more in need of saving than they are.
Despite the bizarre scenarios and sense of mystery that surround Anxious People, it is the characters who take center stage. Each figure possesses a set of annoying habits, endearing traits, and fears about his or her place in the world. Backman uses these details to full effect, creating flesh-and-blood humans that, at times, feel all too relatable.
Eight characters might seem like a lot to juggle in just three hundred-odd pages, but through the anecdotes and memories each character shares throughout the novel, the Swedish author builds an image of their identities, strengths, and flaws. Every reminiscence is packed with details, both implicit and explicit, that help readers empathize with these peculiar individuals.
Backman also fully utilizes his ability to convey emotion through storytelling. His visceral writing does what few others can: capturing the jumbled, yet intricate journey that is the human experience. The entirety of the novel is a constant fluctuation of emotion; Anxious People is a testament to both our proudest moments and bitterest regrets, personified in eight drastically different hostages.
That emotion is what makes this book so memorable. A synopsis would never do Anxious People justice, because the plot is not the focal point of the novel, as is the case with all of Backman’s writing. Instead, it excels at bridging the audience with a fictional world that is incredibly bizarre, yet somehow eerily similar to our own.
Admittedly, Backman’s latest release does come with its issues. It is a slow, winding novel that is prone to unrelated tangents, which, at times, shifts the focus away from the fleshed-out characters. The novel’s pacing and tendency to repeat old information will bore some readers. But as the story progresses, Backman does an increasingly better job at limiting these flaws and reverts back to what he does best: writing emotion. The result is numerous moments of connection, sentiment, and whimsy.
Chalk-full of witty humor and tender reflections, Anxious People is a must read for anyone who wishes to relive what it means to be human.