Title: Anxious People
Author: Fredrik Backman; Translated by Neil Smith
Genre: Current Lit
Page Count: 336
Publication Date: 2019 (in Sweden); September 2020 (Translation)
My first experience with Fredrik Backman was the movie adaptation of his book A Man Called Ove (I, stupidly, did not read the book). I remember watching and thinking, “This is weird…weird…but relatable.” I wasn’t confident that I was watching an accurate depiction of Backman’s voice but was intrigued all the same.
Fast forward to now, and I can confidently say I am a convert and Backman groupie through and through (and also a Neil Smith fan for translating this Swedish novel into English).
Fredrik Backman gets life in a way many modern writers seem to miss. He is able to tell a truly believable story while also making it feel fantastical and otherworldly. For the first time in a long time, I was able to escape into a book that was set in the 21st century, which for me is hard to do. I normally need some sort of divide from my every day– either through era or realm– to find a book as engrossing as I found Anxious People, but I found a home in Backman’s latest work.
I remember telling my mom that I was going to be reading Anxious People and couldn’t wait to get started. She works for the library district in my hometown so she’s surrounded by readers. Although she didn’t read it herself, she offhandedly mentioned, “Some of my co-workers have said the book gave them anxiety!” I for one do not need more anxiety in my life– I create enough on my own– so I was a bit apprehensive.
Backman’s story did not make me anxious– it made me feel seen. It was snarky, quirky, sarcastic, heartfelt, whimsical, bittersweet, and romantic all at once. The premise of the novel reminds me of The Breakfast Club– a group of strangers are stuck at an apartment viewing during a freak hostage situation and get to know each other’s complexities while they wait to be let go.
In 336 pages, you get to see different anxieties that people face throughout life and how each person copes– or doesn’t cope– with those stresses.
Am I a good enough wife? Am I a good enough therapist? Am I a good enough father? Am I good enough at my job? Am I good enough for my grandchildren? Am I good enough, period? And while you get to know each character and the flaws they see in themselves, you also get to know someone in their life that loves them dearly and sees all of the good each character has forgotten to notice.
It’s a beautiful looking glass into what life is like for a person with anxiety/depression. Often swarmed by the worries in life, people with anxiety/depression will get lost in, or are held hostage by, their own minds while their loved ones and friends try to ground them. As Backman illustrates in Anxious People, sometimes strangers are the only ones capable of reminding us that life’s worth living.
The last page of Anxious People starts with the following excerpt:
The truth? The truth about all of this? The truth is that this was a story about many different things, but most of all about idiots.Backman, Fredrick and Neil Smith. Anxious People. New York: Atria Books, 2020.
I, for one, disagree with Backman’s assessment however on-brand the snarky sentiment may be. This book isn’t about idiots by any means, but about love and loneliness and how life is often the limbo found in between the two. I know I will turn back to this book when I feel a little lost in the world and need a reminder that while there is worry, there is also hope of a new day.
And as a nod to Backman’s closing remarks in this book, I want to provide these resources for anyone that might need them:
National Suicide Preventions Lifeline: Call 800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: Text “talk” to 741741
You can purchase Anxious People here if you are interested in reading. My next book review will come out on February 28th. I’m being super ambitious and will be doing a dueling review: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, which can be bought here and Zelda Fitzgerald’s Save Me the Waltz, which can be bought here if you would like to read along. Come back next week for my Anxious People florilegium! Happy reading!