An instant #1 New York Times bestseller, the new novel from the author of A Man Called Ove is a “quirky, big-hearted novel….Wry, wise and often laugh-out-loud funny, it’s a wholly original story that delivers pure pleasure” (People).
Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can’t fix their own marriage. There’s a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can’t seem to agree on anything. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment’s only bathroom, and you’ve got the worst group of hostages in the world.
Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them—the bank robber included—desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises, these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.
Proving once again that Backman is “a master of writing delightful, insightful, soulful, character-driven narratives” (USA TODAY), Anxious People “captures the messy essence of being human….It’s clever and affecting, as likely to make you laugh out loud as it is to make you cry” (TheWashington Post). This “endlessly entertaining mood-booster” (Real Simple) is proof that the enduring power of friendship, forgiveness, and hope can save us—even in the most anxious of times.
An Amazon Best Book of September 2020: An everyday apartment open house becomes the stage for Backman’s latest novel, when a bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. As the title hints, each member of the group bares his or her own anxieties, not just about the hostage situation, but about their individual lives. Backman is a funny, charming story teller, and Anxious People is a fine showcase for his talents as a writer. There are twists and surprises. There are editorial asides. Beneath it all, there is a deep sense of warmth and empathy. Backman is particularly gifted at creating a community of memorable characters and opening up their mental states to readers. And many readers of Anxious People will in turn reflect on their own anxieties. Ultimately, Backman seems to be telling us that—though it be a messy, ambiguous world we inhabit—we can turn toward one another to find calm and assurance. This is a novel that can, and should, be embraced by anxious people everywhere. –Chris Schluep, Amazon Book Review
“Backman again captures the messy essence of being human...It’s clever and affecting, as likely to make you laugh out loud as it is to make you cry.” —Washington Post
“Backman’s latest novel hits the sweet spot between profoundly insightful and preposterously funny….I hugged this book tightly with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes.” –USA Today
“The perfect balance of heartwarming and heart-wrenching, and Fredrik Backman has a way of simply yet elegantly describing relationships. We can all be idiots, but we’re still all human beings worthy of connection and love.” –NPR
“A brilliant and comforting read.” —Matt Haig, bestselling author of The Midnight Library
“An endlessly entertaining mood booster.” —Real Simple
"This book examines how a shared event can change the course of many lives at once. And if you like strongly drawn characters and a mix of humor and heartbreak, this one's for you.” –The Skimm
"[A] witty, lighthearted romp...Backman charms." —Publishers Weekly
"Wry, wise and often laugh-out-loud funny, it’s a wholly original story that delivers pure pleasure.” —People
“A deeply funny and warm examination of how individual experiences can bring a random group of people together. Backman reveals each character’s many imperfections with tremendous empathy, reminding us that people are always more than the sum of their flaws.” —BookPage
"[A] tight-knit, surprise-filled narrative... the brisk, absorbing action prompts meditation on marriage, parenting, responsibility, and global economic pressures. Comedy, drama, mystery, and social study, this novel is undefinable except for the sheer reading pleasure it delivers. Highly recommended."—Library Journal (starred review)
“Backman’s latest novel focuses on how a shared event can change the course of multiple people’s lives even in times of deep and ongoing anxiousness. A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.” —Kirkus Review
“Funny, compassionate and wise...an absolute joy.” —AJ Pearce, author of Dear Mrs. Bird
Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, Us Against You, and Anxious People, as well as two novellas and one work of nonfiction. His books are published in more than forty countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter @BackmanLand and on Instagram @Backmansk.
Chapter 1 1
A bank robbery. A hostage drama. A stairwell full of police officers on their way to storm an apartment. It was easy to get to this point, much easier than you might think. All it took was one single really bad idea.
This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots. So it needs saying from the outset that it’s always very easy to declare that other people are idiots, but only if you forget how idiotically difficult being human is. Especially if you have other people you’re trying to be a reasonably good human being for.
Because there’s such an unbelievable amount that we’re all supposed to be able to cope with these days. You’re supposed to have a job, and somewhere to live, and a family, and you’re supposed to pay taxes and have clean underwear and remember the password to your damn Wi-Fi. Some of us never manage to get the chaos under control, so our lives simply carry on, the world spinning through space at two million miles an hour while we bounce about on its surface like so many lost socks. Our hearts are bars of soap that we keep losing hold of; the moment we relax, they drift off and fall in love and get broken, all in the wink of an eye. We’re not in control. So we learn to pretend, all the time, about our jobs and our marriages and our children and everything else. We pretend we’re normal, that we’re reasonably well educated, that we understand “amortization levels” and “inflation rates.” That we know how sex works. In truth, we know as much about sex as we do about USB leads, and it always takes us four tries to get those little buggers in. (Wrong way round, wrong way round, wrong way round, there! In!) We pretend to be good parents when all we really do is provide our kids with food and clothing and tell them off when they put chewing gum they find on the ground in their mouths. We tried keeping tropical fish once and they all died. And we really don’t know more about children than tropical fish, so the responsibility frightens the life out of us each morning. We don’t have a plan, we just do our best to get through the day, because there’ll be another one coming along tomorrow.
Sometimes it hurts, it really hurts, for no other reason than the fact that our skin doesn’t feel like it’s ours. Sometimes we panic, because the bills need paying and we have to be grown-up and we don’t know how, because it’s so horribly, desperately easy to fail at being grown-up.
Because everyone loves someone, and anyone who loves someone has had those desperate nights where we lie awake trying to figure out how we can afford to carry on being human beings. Sometimes that makes us do things that seem ridiculous in hindsight, but which felt like the only way out at the time.
One single really bad idea. That’s all it takes.
One morning, for instance, a thirty-nine-year-old resident of a not particularly large or noteworthy town left home clutching a pistol, and that was—in hindsight—a really stupid idea. Because this is a story about a hostage drama, but that wasn’t the intention. That is to say, it was the intention that it should be a story, but it wasn’t the intention that it should be about a hostage drama. It was supposed to be about a bank robbery. But everything got a bit messed up, because sometimes that happens with bank robberies. So the thirty-nine-year-old bank robber fled, but with no escape plan, and the thing about escape plans is just like what the bank robber’s mom always said years ago, when the bank robber forgot the ice cubes and slices of lemon in the kitchen and had to run back: “If your head isn’t up to the job, your legs better be!” (It should be noted that when she died, the bank robber’s mom consisted of so much gin and tonic that they didn’t dare cremate her because of the risk of explosion, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t have good advice to offer.) So after the bank robbery that wasn’t actually a bank robbery, the police showed up, of course, so the bank robber got scared and ran out, across the street and into the first door that presented itself. It’s probably a bit harsh to label the bank robber an idiot simply because of that, but… well, it certainly wasn’t an act of genius. Because the door led to a stairwell with no other exits, which meant the bank robber’s only option was to run up the stairs.
It should be noted that this particular bank robber had the same level of fitness as the average thirty-nine-year-old. Not one of those big-city thirty-nine-year-olds who deal with their midlife crisis by buying ridiculously expensive cycling shorts and swimming caps because they have a black hole in their soul that devours Instagram pictures, more the sort of thirty-nine-year-old whose daily consumption of cheese and carbohydrates was more likely to be classified medically as a cry for help rather than a diet. So by the time the bank robber reached the top floor, all sorts of glands had opened up, causing breathing that sounded like something you usually associate with the sort of secret societies that demand a password through a hatch in the door before they let you in. By this point, any chance of evading the police had dwindled to pretty much nonexistent.
But by chance the robber turned and saw that the door to one of the apartments in the building was open, because that particular apartment happened to be up for sale and was full of prospective buyers looking around. So the bank robber stumbled in, panting and sweaty, holding the pistol in the air, and that was how this story ended up becoming a hostage drama.
And then things went the way they did: the police surrounded the building, reporters showed up, the story made it onto the television news. The whole thing went on for several hours, until the bank robber had to give up. There was no other choice. So all eight people who had been held hostage, seven prospective buyers and one real estate agent, were released. A couple of minutes later the police stormed the apartment. But by then it was empty.
No one knew where the bank robber had gone.
That’s really all you need to know at this point. Now the story can begin.