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Icon book review: Anxious People

This novel is about relationships. And idiots.

By Robert McCool

Really, Fredrik Backman's 2019 novel, Anxious People (Thorndike Press, ISBN-13: 978-1-4328-7971-6), translated from the Swedish by Neil Smith, is about the ridiculousness in all of our lives. It's about how humor is the only safe guide to a pathway clear of the clay-more mines that lie in wait for those who love somebody, someone who has emotions too, emotions sometimes so like our own it's hard to differentiate between the two. Especially so on New Years eve.

This book is a series of idiotic acts by people who don't know what is happening in front of their faces. It has a bank robber who has the worst luck, and the poorest planning of a crime. It has an apartment filled with unfortunate people who become the bank robber's captives in an idiotic stand-off with two policemen who are, and act like father and son. Other unfortunates are; the Realtor whose job it is to show and sell the apartment, an out-of-work-actor in a rabbit mask who's job it is to scare away bidders, a wealthy bank director with a no-nonsense way of listening to death-metal music to still her wealthy inner-voices, a lesbian couple who are expecting a child, an ex- bridge engineer with a need to be correct, his successful wife, and an eighty-seven-year-old woman on her own since her husband died.

It is a novel full of surprises, beginning with the bank robber who picks a “no cash bank” to rob. The cops are called, and the robber ends up hiding in an ongoing apartment showing, taking the Realtor and others hostage by accident. It goes downhill for the robber from there.

This is where life and its meaningful relationships start to unravel person by person, couple by couple. Each in turn reveal the workings of their marriage and what kind of love makes them happy. Except for Zara, the bank director. She's never let another person near her, treating people as exorbitant annoyances. But is she happy? Does that even matter to her?

The humor becomes something else. It becomes something more fluid, more like the implied terror of having children among that said mine-field; a worry that, “Am I good enough?” guides you now, without another clear direction to follow in the tangled, dysfunctional two-step of child rearing.

Relationships develop between the captives. Especially when one finds a stash of wine bottles hidden, and full. Truths flow like the wine for three women, who relax after a couple of bottles are drunk. A secret isn’t a secret if two people know it. Secrets give way to understanding and acceptance for all the captives.

Fredrick Backman writes very well about the women's views and experiences. Not once did I disbelieve their voices or actions, with or without men dead or still alive. I enjoyed the laugh this book brought me. I emphasized with each person's version of their lives as told by talk-story or incidence within the present situation. I will remember this novel for the insight it brought me.

This book was suggested by a book-club member, and I thank her for that. It won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but I liked this novel.