Brand new review: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

September 9, 2020

Genre: Mainstream fiction

Release date: Sept. 8, 2020

Rated: Binge it! / 5 stars

A bank robbery goes wrong, making the thief desperate enough to take an apartment full of people hostage. As the day progresses, the hostages, the thief, and the police officers on the case will all find themselves grappling with their lives’ greatest hurts. Veteran author Fredrik Backman returns with another touching, funny, relatable novel with his latest book Anxious People.

In a medium-sized town in Sweden, policeman Jack is left bewildered late in the afternoon on the day before New Year’s Eve. He’s just successfully negotiated the release of eight hostages, but the hostage taker is nowhere to be found. Moreover, after interviewing the hostages, Jack can’t shake the suspicion that at least one of them is lying about what happened in the apartment where they were held.

It doesn’t help that Jack’s father, Jim, is also a cop on the case and keeps hovering. Jack should be happy the hostages are okay, but he’s worried. When the hostages were set free, the police heard a gunshot in the apartment. After storming it, they stumbled across a large pool of blood. Jack wants to bring the hostage taker to justice, but he also doesn’t want the person to die. He can’t lose anyone else.

He keeps reviewing the facts on hand. He knows the hostage taker started the day as a bank robber, but when the robbery went horribly wrong the robber ran into the nearest building. There, on the top floor, a real estate agent was holding an open house for an apartment. The robber took one look at everyone in the apartment, threatened them with a gun, and announced everyone there was now a hostage.

At least, that’s what Jack thinks happened. The hostages just won’t give him straight answers. In their town, this is the most dramatic crime to have taken place pretty much ever, and Jack’s boss and other superiors have called for the “experienced” officers from the capital of Stockholm to step in. He’s determined to solve the crime before the Stockholmers arrive, and he just might be able to do it…if at least one of the hostages is willing to cooperate.

What Jack doesn’t know is that before leaving the apartment, all eight of the hostages make a decision. It comes after a day spent first under the threat of the bank robber and then under the threat of their most precious secrets coming to light. When the inevitable happens, the hostages decide their experience with the bank robber will bind them to one another in ways only they can understand.

Author Fredrik Backman brings to readers yet another poignant book that will induce laughter, tears, and a pause for reflection all on the same page. His lyricism and gentle prose might deceive some into thinking that his method of storytelling is easy. It is neither easy to accomplish nor easy to imitate, and Backman breaks many standard writing rules. Yet he does it with such grace, wit, and experience that readers won’t even realize he’s done it.

Backman manages to give readers enough information on the hostages, the bank robber, Jack, Jim, and a clinical psychologist to make all of them feel like real people. His use of an omniscient point of view allows him to interject opinions and questions, often addressing the reader directly, all in a conversational style. With a practiced hand, every paragraph of that conversation leads back to the heart of the conflict: on a given day, when the circumstances align, people’s greatest anxieties come to the fore.

The short chapters, some of them less than a page, will make it easy for readers to speed through the book, and carefully placed revelations about the characters will create the compulsion to go right back to the first page and start again as soon as it’s finished. Anyone looking for a relatable novel containing universal life truths and a story that is still wholly established in its culture will definitely enjoy this one. I recommend readers Binge Anxious People.

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