Book review: “Anxious People” by Fredrik Backman

“Anxious People” by Fredrik Backman

c.2020, Atria $28.00 / higher in Canada 352 pages

There’s no way out.

Face it: you can’t escape. There’s no sneaking off here, no graceful exits, no big cartoon stage-hooks for you. You can’t wiggle past anybody, and just walking off into the sunset is a no-go. Nope, you’re stuck. You can’t get away now; as in the new novel “Anxious People” by Fredrik Backman, there are too many eyes watching.

Ten years ago, a man was at his wits’ end.

He had foolishly borrowed money, hoping to make more but the economy tanked and he had nowhere to go but to a bridge. Standing at the top of the span, he thought he was alone but a teenage boy was there, too, and he tried to talk the man into stepping back. Alas, the man stepped forward into the void and the boy never forgot.

Years later, that boy became a man who became a police officer like his father. Unlike his father, he had no patience, so when a call came in that a bank robbery had taken place in their nondescript little town, the young officer thought it might be his chance to show his boss’s boss’s boss that he was a good cop.

But this robbery was like no other: the bank was a cashless bank.

Realizing that this must be the Dumbest Heist in History, the robber panicked and ran to the building next door. From there, he could only go up, and into an apartment where there happened to be an open house. Now totally unnerved, he waved his gun, which probably wasn’t real anyhow, and this robbery-not-robbery instantly became a hostage situation. But after demanding pizza, the robber let everyone go and then he disappeared. Poof.

There’d been nine people in the apartment that afternoon. Eight were questioned (and not very successfully). There was a rabbit there, too, and a trunk full of wine and a freezer full of food. And a lie that somebody got away with…

You know what it’s like to be minding your own business on a bench somewhere, and you’re joined by a dotty eccentric who suddenly starts talking gossip about people you don’t know? It’s scattered, and it makes no sense; it’s odd, and yet amusing enough that, despite yourself, you become interested in hearing more. That’s initially what “Anxious People” is: vague, like you should want to continue but it’s an uneasy 50/50 now, and author Fredrik Backman makes you laugh but it’s a not-quite-committed laugh, and you wonder how you’ll make it to the end of this book.

Trust: you’ll make it to the end of this book.

Turns out, the scatter is the point. It’s a bunch of oops-forgot-to-tell-you’s that hold this tale together, along with distractions, adorableness, romance, and mystery-like MacGuffins that demand patience and promise a well-earned payoff that’s sweet, full of heart, and the right book for our times.

Of course, that’s what you want, isn’t it? A feel-good novel that runs away with you? Yes, it is, and “Anxious People” is that perfect escape.