"Anxious People" can be found at Everyone's Books in Brattleboro, Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center and at the Bennington Bookshop in Bennington.

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The plot of Frederik Backman’s “Anxious People” is one big-hearted joke.

After a failed hold-up at a cashless bank, a would-be bank robber takes a motley crew hostage at an apartment viewing. The victims include an older couple who fix apartments instead of their strained relationship, a grouchy bank analyst, an elderly woman, a squabbling and pregnant young couple, the world’s worst real estate agent and a man in a bunny suit.

The plot points are unrealistic at every turn and the characters too exaggerated to seem exactly natural. The wife in the unhappy marriage, Anna-Lena, reads as a caricature and not a character at times. She mimes everything her husband says, feeling that only she can communicate her husband’s genius to the world. It’s ridiculous. It’s not something anyone would ever do.

And yet, maybe that’s the point.

Despite its departure from strict realism, “Anxious People,” published in English in September 2020, works in a big way. And it’s because there are shades of truth in the vivid characters. Backman wants us to see ourselves in the absurdity of their mistakes, the acuteness of their pain and the unlikely depths of their compassion. He toes but never crosses the line between wry hilarity and tasteless absurdity. It’s hard to do. But his humor and bombast are thoughtful — artful even.

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He writes: “This is a story about a bridge, and idiots, and a hostage drama, and an apartment viewing. But it’s also a love story. Several, in fact.” This is typical of Backman — there’s a lot going on. Even before the botched robbery, the characters’ stories intertwine. Backman seems to suggest that we move through the world with a tangled web of connections — and that that’s not a bad thing.

If “Anxious People” is a love story, it’s a love story starring humanity. Backman seems genuinely fond of our stupidity, and has nothing but empathy for our worst days. “Anxious People” is hopeful, relentlessly so.

In a literary landscape where grim is synonymous with intellectual, that’s refreshing. Backman is changing the face of literary fiction with his optimism.

“Anxious People” can be found at Everyone’s Books in Brattleboro, Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center and at the Bennington Bookshop in Bennington.


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