Anxious People

Anxious People

by

Fredrik Backman

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Anxious People can help.

Ten years ago, a man lost everything in a stock market crash. He wrote a letter to a woman in a bank who denied him a loan to pay his debts telling her “everything he wanted her to know,” and then he stood on a bridge. A teenage boy, Jack, tried to talk him down—but the man jumped anyway. A week later, the woman, Zara, watched as a teenage girl, Nadia, climbed the railing to also jump off the bridge. Jack pulled Nadia to the ground with such force that she was knocked unconscious. They don’t see each other again after this, but Zara picks up Nadia’s wallet and observes from a distance as Nadia trains to be a psychologist and returns to practice in her hometown. Jack, meanwhile, becomes a policeman and works in the same town alongside his dad Jim, who’s also an officer.

Zara holds on to the letter the man wrote her; she’s afraid to open it and confirm that it was her fault he jumped. Eventually, she begins attending counseling sessions with Nadia. Nadia soon realizes that Zara’s biggest problem is that she’s lonely. When she suggests that Zara find a hobby, Zara tells her that she’s started going to viewings of middle-class apartments. Secretly, Zara has been attending apartment viewings since the man jumped, but she only visits apartments with balconies and a view of the bridge.

In the present, a woman—the future bank robber—discovers that her husband has been cheating on her with her boss. Not wanting to make a fuss for her daughters’ sake, she moves out. But without a job or savings, she can barely afford to rent an apartment for 6,500 kroner per month. Her situation gets increasingly dire, and her husband threatens to take sole custody of the girls if the woman can’t keep her apartment. Things come to a head when the woman learns that her older daughter believes her parents are fighting over her. So, the day before New Year’s Eve, the woman puts on a ski mask and, armed with a stolen pistol she believes is a toy (but which is actually real), she tries to rob a bank for 6,500 kroner. However, she makes the mistake of trying to rob a cashless bank. When the young teller, London, tells the robber this, the robber panics and runs across the street into the first door she sees. At the top of the stairs, the robber enters an apartment, which is open because it’s for sale and the viewing is today. Seeing no other choice, the robber takes the prospective buyers hostage.

Jack and Jim are the first on the scene. They’ve never dealt with a hostage drama before, so they’re both unsure of what to do. After consulting Google, they decide to try to make contact with the robber—but when they stumble upon a box of Christmas lights that Jim thinks looks like a bomb, Jim insists they leave the building. He calls their bosses in Stockholm. Jack is enraged; he wants to prove himself and save everyone in the apartment. The special negotiator begins the long drive from Stockholm.

In the apartment, things aren’t as dire as Jack and Jim believe they are. Zara is there, and when the robber waves the gun at her, Zara is just shocked to learn she doesn’t really want to die. A retired couple, Roger and Anna-Lena, want to buy the apartment to renovate and then sell again; while a younger couple, Ro and Julia, are looking for a new apartment since Julia is having a baby soon. They’re all fighting when the robber enters the apartment. The robber asks that everyone lie down and be quiet so she can think, but everyone refuses. Estelle suggests they all introduce themselves and, when she claps her hands in glee, everyone falls to the ground, terrified the pistol went off.

Julia has to use the bathroom, but it’s locked. Suddenly, Anna-Lena becomes agitated. Finally, a man in only underwear, socks, and a rabbit’s head opens the bathroom door and introduces himself as Lennart. Anna-Lena confesses that she’s been hiring Lennart for a year now: he makes scenes at apartment viewings so nobody wants to buy the apartments, which allows Roger to negotiate better deals on the apartments. She just wants Roger to feel successful and useful. Secretly, she wants to stop flipping apartments and have a real home again. Enraged, Roger goes to sit in the hall, while Anna-Lena goes into the walk-in closet to sob privately. Ro and the robber join Roger, while Julia joins Anna-Lena in the closet.

In the hallway, Ro admits that she’s afraid to move because her dad usually advises her when she makes purchases. He has dementia, though, and can’t check out this apartment. Roger, recognizing himself in Ro, suggests that Ro and Julia buy the apartment—there’s nothing wrong with it, and Ro will learn to fix things like baseboards soon enough. The robber shares that she has daughters and assures Ro that Ro will be a good parent.

In the closet, Julia tries to comfort Anna-Lena (Julia thinks Roger is an “emotionally challenged old fart”). However, Anna-Lena dashes this perception when she explains that Roger is actually very sensitive, noble, and caring. The women realize their spouses are actually very similar—both use a hair dryer to dry their pubic hair, for instance—and they realize they have a lot in common, too.

Estelle, who says that her husband Knut is parking their car, asks if anyone is hungry. When Ro points out that the police are always willing to buy pizza for hostages in movies, Roger agrees to organize a pizza order. He ties the pizza order to a lime and throws it off the balcony. It hits Jack in the head. Jack and Jim realize that when they take the pizzas up to the apartment, they can slip a phone into a pizza box so the special negotiator can call the robber and negotiate with them.

Meanwhile, in the apartment, Estelle joins Julia and Anna-Lena in the closet. She scandalizes Anna-Lena when she digs through a trunk and pulls out a bottle of wine, but the older women share the bottle. The three women discuss parenting and marriage, and Anna-Lena assures Julia that she’ll be a fine parent, as kids mostly just need chauffeurs. Then, Anna-Lena reveals that she worked as a top analyst for a big American company. Roger kept putting his engineering career on hold to care for their kids while she kept getting promoted, and he never got to reach his full potential. Now, she’s trying to make him feel needed. Very drunk now, Estelle admits that she once had an affair with her neighbor; they exchanged books in the elevator until he died, but it never went any further than that. With coaxing, she also reveals that Knut is dead, not parking the car. The women decide they should help the robber.

Meanwhile, the robber is alone in the hallway and feels increasingly hopeless. Just as she begins to lift the pistol and wonder if she’d kill herself if it was real, Zara appears and tells the robber not to do anything silly. Disturbed that she might be becoming empathetic, Zara retreats to the balcony to listen to death metal through her headphones. Lennart joins Zara on the balcony. Zara finds Lennart, whose head is still stuck in the rabbit head, easy to talk to. She tells him about how the finance industry is too strong: it destroys people who just want to live their lives and turns apartments into investments, not homes. She sends Lennart inside to go put pants on.

Lennart lost his pants, so he knocks on the closet and asks to borrow some. Estelle is drunk and is also smoking by now; the smoke is going up through a mysterious vent in the ceiling. The vent begins to cough—and when Lennart gets up to look, he gets his rabbit head unstuck (it remains in the vent) and pulls the real estate agent down with him when he falls. The agent reveals that she’s been hiding since the hostage drama began. Lennart’s fall causes the fake blood packet he carries to burst, covering the living room rug in blood.

The pizzas arrive, and Jim defies Jack by sneaking up to the apartment while Jack is on the phone with the special negotiator, trying to get a look at the supposed bomb from the building across the street. Though Lennart and Roger argue over who should open the door in the ski mask (all the hostages have agreed to help the robber), the robber insists on opening the door herself. After giving the hostages the pizza, she sits on the landing with Jim—who feels very sympathetic, as the robber looks exactly like his daughter, Jack’s sister, who’s addicted to heroin. Overcome with emotion as the robber tells her story, Jim suggests that the robber sneak into the empty apartment across the landing, which is for sale and being sold by the same real estate agent as this one. He’ll tell his colleagues the robber is male—they’ve all assumed the robber was male, anyway. The robber asks for fireworks in exchange for letting the hostages go; Estelle has mentioned how much Knut loved fireworks.

The robber returns to the apartment, but the agent doesn’t have a key to the neighboring apartment. Estelle, however, reveals that this is her apartment, and the one across the landing belonged to her lover—and she still has the key. After Jim’s fireworks show ends, the hostages head downstairs. The robber leaves the apartment once they’re gone and, with a wave from Jim, slips into the neighboring apartment. The special negotiator calls the phone (which is still in Estelle’s apartment) to speak to the robber, but the phone is on vibrate. Its vibration causes the pistol to go off, and when Jack storms the apartment a moment later and sees the blood, he’s convinced that the robber shot himself and is hiding somewhere in the apartment, dying.

Jack and Jim interview the hostages at the police station, but the hostages all insist they know nothing and that the robber was in the apartment when they left. After searching the apartment again and finding the rabbit head in the vent, Jack realizes the robber must’ve posed as the agent and left the apartment with everyone else—she’s at the station. But after Jack harasses the agent to tell him he’s right, Jim pulls Jack into the hall and tells him the truth. Jack lets the witnesses go out the back and tells the journalists and the backup agents from Stockholm that they lost the robber.

Julia and Ro buy Estelle’s lover’s former apartment, while the robber and her daughters move in with Estelle. Zara visits Nadia and asks her to help her read the man’s letter, which says, “It wasn’t your fault.” Zara quits her job in the bank, gives away her fortune, and starts a relationship with Lennart. In the spring, she sends Jack a letter directing him to Nadia’s office. Jack recognizes Nadia, and she’s shocked and thrilled to find the person who saved her. In 10 years, they’ll tell people how it felt to smile at each other the first time.