ANXIOUS PEOPLE – Fredrik Backman

“Our hearts are bars of soap that we keep losing hold of…”

If you’re going to split a book into the next year, you better make sure it’s a damn good one.  Otherwise, you’ll be cursed to read lukewarm works that just miss the mark for the entire year. (A bookish superstition that I’m not going to question.)  And so, as the clock counted down the last minutes of 2021, I selected Fredrik Backman’s Anxious People (2019, translated 2020 Atria Books) because Backman doesn’t disappoint. As I turned the last page on the first day of the new year, I knew without a doubt I’d read what will be one if not the top read of 2022.  What a way to start the year.

Backman is a heartbeat author, writing characters and communities so full of love, it spills over and leaks from your eyes. His books are hugs, eyelash kisses, and belly laughs – told in a voice that is uniquely grandiose yet understated all at the same time — and Anxious People was an absolute delight.

On the day before New Year’s Eve, a group of people are taken hostage by a would-be bank robber with not a toy gun.  I say “would-be” because the bank was cashless and no one was robbed, but that’s neither here nor there.  The robber flees the bank and ends up at an apartment showing, the potential purchasers become the hostages.  A father and son police duo are on the case, and when the robber goes missing after the hostages are released, they realize that someone had to have helped.  The son will not rest until he can “fix it.” He’s worried the robber is injured, and he wants to help.  Helping is his thing.  He comes by it honest though, with a priest of a mother and a cop of a father.

Taken hostage are Ro and Julia (a young lesbian couple who are very, very pregnant), Estelle (an 87 year old whose revelation about Knut had me biting my lip), Lennart (a mystery man in a bunny suit who had me laughing aloud), Roger and Anna-Lena (perhaps the most unexpected of the bunch, they are flippers with a few secrets of their own), and Zara (a wealthy banker whose been on her own journey, a decade’s old unopened letter serving as her albatross). As the robber repeatedly bemoans, they are indeed the worst hostages ever.  But the robber is pretty much the worst robber ever, so they all deserve each other.

The view from the apartment turned crime scene is of a bridge.  A man jumped from it ten years ago.  A young woman didn’t because a young man was there. Roger says bridges are supposed to bring people together.  And when a robber tried to rob a cashless bank and ended up at a showing for an apartment with a view of that bridge, another kind of bridge was built and a bunch of “idiots” were brought together.  The result is beautiful slice of life, love, laughter, and sacrifice.

Read this book.

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