Fredrik Backman's newest release: Anxious People
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
Genre: General Fiction
Published August 2020, 341 pages
"This book is dedicated to the voices in my head, the most remarkable of my friends. And to my wife, who lives with us."
I loved this dedication - as quirky as Backman's books. He's one of my favorite authors and I eagerly look forward to any new release. This one is filled with his trademark quirky characters, and there's a bit of twist mid-story, but somehow this one didn't resonate with me as most of his others have.
The plot synopsis is: while trying to evade the cops, a failed bank robber ends up in an apartment open house with a realtor and her clients, and ends up taking them hostage. During the hostage situation we learn the back stories of the various potential buyers as well as the two cops trying to resolve the hostage situation. When the hostages are all released and the cops enter the apartment, there's no bank robber. This opens the "closed-door-mystery" scenario and these two poor cops have to try to figure out what happened.
"Do you know what the worst thing about being a parent is? That you're always judged by your worst moments. You can do a million things right, but if you do one single thing wrong, you're forever that parent who was checking his phone in the park when your child was hit in the head with a swing. We don't take our eyes off them for days at a time, but then you read just one text message and it's as if all your best moments never happened. Parents are defined by their mistakes."
The characters are appropriately unusual: there's a 50 something woman, wealthy and snooty and lonely (and with a big secret); there's a pregnant woman and her wife that argue constantly; there's an elderly woman waiting while her husband parks the car; and a couple who are looking at the apartment as an investment opportunity. Of course, as with all Backman stories, that's their surface story....there's so much more to be discovered.
What I discovered is that I didn't really like any of the characters. The wealthy woman is obnoxious, the female couple is rude and SO argumentative, the elderly woman is sweet but a bit off, and the couple looking for an investment seem mismatched and unhappy in their marriage. The cops are a father and son who have difficulty communicating with each other (lots of thoughts and almost no talking to each other). I just wanted to smack a couple of them and say "knock it off - just talk to each other civilly for a minute!".
"The worst thing a divorce does to a person isn't that it makes all the time you devoted to the relationship feel wasted, but that it steals all the plans you had for the future."
The way the story unfolds has a touch of wry humor, almost a "what could possibly happen next" feeling. Backman took this group of grumbly, unlikeable characters and put them is this stressful hostage situation. Lo and behold they manage to sort out their individual issues, make connections with other people that helped shine a light on their own situation. It was very cleverly done. I've often read how authors let their characters direct the story and how it unfolds. I think some of these characters needed a bit of a nudge from Backman to see past their own idiosyncracies, but ultimately, there was a "moral" or lesson learned for each person.
"They say that a person's personality is the sum of their experiences. But that isn't true, at least not entirely, because if our past was all that defined us, we'd never be able to put up with ourselves. We need to be allowed to convince ourselves that we're more than the mistakes we made yesterday. That we are all of our next choices, too, all of our tomorrows."
All that being said, this book was maybe a little more philosophical or filled with social commentary than most of his previous books. I actually marked lots of quotes that spoke to me on some level. His variety of characters give him space to comment on a range of issues from gay marriage to love/marriage/divorce, from privilege and loneliness to the value of communication. Lots of interesting themes - I just didn't care much for the characters the themes were wrapped up in.
Are you a Fredrik Backman fan? What did you think of this book?