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Likely Stories : Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Over the last few years, I have devoured the works of Fredrik Backman.  He hails from Sweden, and he has written seven superbly funny, interesting, and moving novels.  His latest book is Anxious People.  Two-thirds of the book are full of humor and outright laughter, while the last third is a wonderfully described set of characters who supply all the fun for these characters.  


Backman begins, “A bank robbery.  A hostage drama.  A stairwell of police officers on their way to storm an apartment.  It was easy to get to this point, much easier than you 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” (1).

The next short passages demonstrate how Backman has laid a wonderful plot from beginning to end.  Fredrick wrote, “Ten years ago a man was standing under a bridge.  This story isn’t about that man, so you don’t really need to think about him right now.  Well, obviously you can’t help thinking about him, it’s like saying ‘Don’t think about cookies,’ and now you are thinking about cookies. // Don’t think about cookies! // All you need to know is that a man was standing on a bridge ten years ago.  Up on the railing, high above the water, at the end of his life.  Don’t think about that anymore know.  Think about something nicer. // Think about cookies” (4).  Hang on!  The circus will begin soon!

Here is a sample of a “Witness Interview” by Jack.  “JACK: You’d probably be more comfortable if you sat on the chair instead of the floor. / LONDON: Have you got something wrong with your eyes or something? You can see that the charging cable for my cell phone won’t reach the chair. / JACK: And moving the chair is out of the question, obviously. / LONDON: What? / JACK: Nothing. / LONDON: You have got really crap reception in here.  Like One bar… / JACK: I’d like to switch your phone off now so I can ask my questions. // LONDON: I’m not stopping you, am I?  Ask away.  Are you really a cop?  You look too young to be a cop. / JACK: Your name is London, is that correct? / LONDON: ‘Correct.’ Is that how you talk?  You sound like you’re doing role play with someone who gets turned on by accounts” (35).  The officers try and interview all witnesses, so these are mostly all funny.

Fredrik Backman’s latest contribution to Swedish literature is Anxious People and they are guaranteed to bring you into his wonderful novels.  Spoiler alert, no one is hurt.  5 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.