A review of Frederick Backman’s “Anxious People”

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“This is a story about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots,” Swedish author Fredrik Backman divulges to his readers on the opening page of his new novel Anxious People. This is a story about a bank robbery, a hostage drama, marital distress, heart wrenching family division and of course, idiots.

The majority of Anxious People takes place over a 24-hour time span, leaving the question: how much can truly happen over the course of a single day? Well, according to Fredrik Backman—and well, I guess James Joyce—quite a lot.

Backman keeps his readers in constant suspense, keeping the loose connections of his characters as broad and ambiguous as possible. It is not until you’ve finally lost all hope that he fleeces the ties between these fictional fools, inevitably inducing tears.

Backman will always find ways to make you cry. Funny ways that have you questioning whether or not this moment warrants genuine emotion. I was waxing the floors of a high-school gymnasium, working a summer job for the local school board, as I listened to A Man Called Ove—unquestionably Backman’s greatest novel. 

I had been weeping into the drying wax, grinning at my reflection in the floor like a sociopathic narcissist. But that’s just what he does, he tears you apart while simultaneously sewing you back together—and Anxious People is no exception.

They are tears of joy, the kind of crying you show only when something is right and just. Your heart will ache with hope and accomplishment because after spending so much time with a cast of characters like this, it’s only fair to validate your participation in group affairs.

But unlike A Man Called Ove—a novel centered around a pessimistic, suicidal old man—Backman’s recent release is built on suspense and improvisation. It’s a story of unfortunate situations and unlikely coincidences.

Yet, the situations you may find these characters in feel genuine. Nothing comes off as forced or improbable, as much as it may seem so on paper. For all I know, Jim and Jack are still going about their day fighting monotonous crime in a small town just outside of Stockholm, Sweden.

You fall in love with Backman’s characters, even the shitty ones. I think of Ove almost daily and it wouldn’t surprise me if one of the actors in Anxious People sticks with me for quite a while. Nothing in this book ever hints at the possibility that these people are fictitious. Even the most clever of literary theorists will struggle to grasp that none of this is real.

The social ties built between characters throughout the novel will make you question how you ever had trouble making friends. “If these assholes can do it, so can I.” Backman wraps arrogance with love and ties it together in a bow of understanding.

Anxious People leaves you satisfied. And maybe this isn’t the ideal trait for a book, but you never leave wanting more. He answers your questions and although he may not divulge all of his secrets, you trust that these characters will find a way to figure it out without you.

This is an author at the peak of his craft. Anxious People is simply Backman curving the guidelines of a genre to his style of genius. If there is one author to read right now, that author has to be Fredrik Backman.


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