Anxious People

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I started this book on audio and was so surprised at how many chapters I had heard on such a short drive.  However, I was surprised that by Ch. 20 I was only 17% done.  It was a little discouraging.
I loved the majority of Chapter 1 - who can't relate to almost all of it!  I also read some of the book on eBook.
We've read three other Fredrik Backman books (A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here); this one feels quite different because there is a lot of 2nd Person Point of View.

A man is blindsided by his wife having an affair with his boss - he loses his home, his wife and his job all at once.  He tries desperately to find a place to live that he can afford but is unable to manage it and fears losing rights to his children - so he tries to rob a bank for exactly the amount he needs for rent.  But things go haywire, he doesn't get any money and winds up in an apartment that is being shown for purchase.  There are many prospective buyers in the apartment so it turns into an unintended hostage situation.

The story was progressing well until around Ch. 48 and then it took such a divergent turn that I got really disgusted with the whole concept and had almost no interest in finishing the book.   I might have been aware of a nagging feeling that I was missing a little something - but the idea that I overlooked such a major discrepancy was just too insulting.  An author should not make their reader feel so entirely foolish.  A trick or a fun twist is acceptable - but, in a book that repeatedly says it's a book about idiots, I still didn't expect to feel like an idiot.  I thought the book must be near done, though, and I thought I could muscle through...and then I saw on my Kindle that I was only 66% done - it was torture.

Also, the book is a little too jumpy.  I've become accustomed to stories not being told in a linear fashion.  It is very common now to have a novel that takes place on two different timelines (past and present, for example).  But this novel has at least three different tracks that don't occur in any relevant time frame.  For example, we read about the hostages ordering pizza.  Then, slightly more in the future, the two detectives are back at the apartment investigating the crime scene.  Then, all of a sudden, they are in the precinct interviewing witnesses.  Then you read about one of the hostages having a session with her therapist, unrelated to the hostage experience.

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):







Sex -

Religion - There is a lot of detail beginning in Ch. 46 about a woman who has been dead the entire book, but was a priest "who liked to drink and tell dirty jokes".  She admitted "she and God didn't agree on everything."  She was unable to get her son to believe in God even though he prayed as she was dying - because she died then that just turned him more off of God because he couldn't reconcile a God who would let a good person die.

Gruesome -

Suspense -

Morality - 

Traditional - An off-pages sister/daughter is an addict who frequently begs money from her brother/father.

I enjoyed the juxtapositions in Ch. 13 comparing kids now and then, especially regarding technology.

There are so many fabulous little gems in this novel.  
  • "The truth of course is that if people really were as happy as they look on the Internet, they wouldn't spend so much damn time on the Internet, because no one who's having a really good day spends half of it taking pictures of themselves.  Anyone can nurture a myth about their life if they have enough manure, so if the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, that's probably because it's full of shit." (Ch. 20, ePg. 57)
  • Regarding the economic system, Zara says, "We made it too strong.  We forgot how greedy we are.  ... A mortgage used to be something you were expected to repay.  But now that every other middle-incolme family has a mortgage for an amoun they couldn't save up in their lifetmes, then the bank isn't lending money anymore.  It's offering financing.  And then homes are no longer homes.  They're investments. ...Because no matter how much money anyone earns, they still lie awake at the end of the month worrying about money.  Everyone looks at what their neighbors have and wonders, 'How can they afford that?' because everyone is living beyond their means  so not even really rich people ever feel really rich, because in the end the only think you can buy is a more expensie verssion of something you've already got.  With borrowed money." (Ch 51, ePg 220, loc. 3004 - 3011)
There is a sort of sub-plot about a man who jumped off a bridge 10 years ago.  It is interesting to see how that event touched the lives of so many who intersect in this novel.  But it also got a little overwhelming trying to keep all those characters straight, relationally, along with the current day - especially because some of them are the same just aged 10 years.  Of course there is:
  • the jumper
  • Jack who tried to save the jumper and felt such a calling to help people that he became a police officer and is now investigating the hostage-taking
  • Zara who is a hostage and works at a bank had received a letter from the jumper and she carries it with her but can't bring herself to read it (ref. ePg. 98)
  • Nadia who went to school with the children of the jumper and tried to copycat the following week then becomes the therapist that Zara sees
Discussion Questions

Jim wanted to be a writer.  Then he wanted Jack to be a writer.  Do parents want their kids to follow in their footsteps or do parents want to walk in the kids' footsteps while the kids pursue the parents' dreams? (Ch. 13)

Do siblings grow up different despite the fact that they grew up together or because of it? (Ch. 13)

Those of us who give children their names are the least willing to use them. (Ch. 20)  "We give those we love nicknames, because love requires a word that belongs to us alone. (ePg. 54)  Do you agree?  Do you use nicknames for your children?

"On Friday you were married and had a job.  On Monday you're homeless and unemployed.  What do you do then?" (ePg. 56)

"Addicts are good at lying, but never as good as their children." (ePg. 59)  Debate, based on your experience or opinion, who is the better liar, addicts or their children?

The psychologist said, "I think that almost all of us have a need to tell ourselves that we're helping to make the world better.  Or at least that we're not making it worse.  that we're on the right side.  That even if...I don't know...that maybe even our very worst actions serve some sort of higher purpose.  Because practically everyone distinguishes between good and bad, so if we breach our own moral code, we have to come up with an excuse for ourselves."  (Ch. 26, ePg. 96, loc. 1326) Do you agree?  How strong is your need to improve the world?

"Parenthood can lead to a sequence of years when the children's feelings suck all the oxygen out of a family, and that can be so emotionally intense that some adults go for years without having an opportunity to tell anyone about their own feelings, and if you don't get a chance for long enough, sometimes you simply forget how to do it." (Ch. 36, ePg. 150)   How did having children change your communication?  Your marriage?  What strategies did you employ to maintain your sense of self or to re-coup your space and your marriage?

Jack felt like, since his sister was seven years older, he didn't grow up with a big sister but with an idol. (Ch. 46)  Do you have much-older siblings?  Were they more of a sibling or an idol for you?

Theme Ideas

Serve flavored beer in honor of Jack and regular beer in honor of Jim.
Serve pizza because the hostages ordered pizza. (Ch. 43)

Decorate with a bowl of limes like all good real-estate agents.