Nearly every character in Anxious People makes assumptions about other people. Most everyone assumes that Zara, a wealthy older woman, couldn’t possibly be interested in buying the apartment she’s looking at. And Jim and Jack, the police officers tasked with handling the hostage drama, assume for much of the novel that they’re dealing with a dangerous and armed male bank robber. In some cases, people’s assumptions are correct; Zara, for instance, truly has no interest in buying the apartment. But in more cases than not, Anxious People suggests that people’s assumptions aren’t correct (at least not in their entirety), and that making assumptions about other people only leads to mistakes and misunderstandings. The most egregious assumption that the novel encourages even the reader to make is that the robber is male—the narration avoids using any pronouns to refer to the robber until more than halfway through the novel, and Jim and Jack, assuming the robber is male, use masculine pronouns in witness interviews with the hostages. This assumption, however, leads Jack, in particular, to believe that the robber shot himself and is hiding somewhere in the apartment, which isn’t true.
Setting aside one’s assumptions and being willing to listen to people tell their stories, on the other hand, is something Anxious People suggests is one of the best ways to help people, show them respect, and even form relationships. When Jim comes face-to-face with the bank robber and learns that she only tried to rob the bank because she feared she’d lose custody of her daughters if she couldn’t pay rent, he’s motivated to help her escape. Perhaps most meaningfully, hearing the robber’s story motivates Estelle, the elderly owner of the apartment, to step in and help the robber with her housing troubles. And many of the hostages, having gone through the hostage drama together and gotten to know one another, part as friends. Thus, Anxious People highlights the positive outcomes that can happen when people are willing to question their assumptions, listen to what people have to say, and connect honestly with people, rather than judging them.
Assumptions Quotes in Anxious People
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.
“Do you know what the worst thing about being a parent is? That you’re always judged by your worst moments. You can do a million things right, but if you do one single thing wrong you’re forever that parent who was checking his phone in the park when your child was hit in the head by a swing. We don’t take our eyes off them for days at a time, but then you read just one text message and it’s as if all your best moments never happened. No one goes to see a psychologist to talk about the times they weren’t hit in the head by a swing as a child. Parents are defined by their mistakes.”
Because you’d never rob a bank, so you haven’t got anything in common with this bank robber.
Except fear, possibly. Because maybe you’ve been really frightened at some time, and so was the bank robber. Possibly because the bank robber had small children and had therefore had a lot of practice being afraid. Perhaps you, too, have children, in which case you’ll know that you’re frightened the whole time, frightened of not knowing everything and of not having the energy to do everything and of not coping with everything.
In the meantime Zara was standing in the elevator. Halfway down she pressed the emergency stop button so she could cry in peace. The letter in her handbag was still unopened, Zara had never dared read it, because she knew the psychologist was right. Zara was one of the people who deep down wouldn’t be able to live with knowing that about herself.
When you’ve been together for a very long time, it’s the little things that matter. In a long marriage you don’t need words to have a row, but you don’t need words to say “I love you,” either. Once when they were at IKEA, very recently, Roger had suggested when they were having lunch in the cafeteria that they each have a piece of cake. Because he understood that it was an important day for Anna-Lena, and because it was important to her it was important to him as well. Because that’s how he loves her.
“Stockholm” is, after all, an expression more than it is a place, both for men like Roger and for most of the rest of us, just a symbolic word to denote all the irritating people who get in the way of our happiness. People who think they’re better than us. Bankers who say no when we apply for a loan, psychologists who ask questions when we only want sleeping pills, old men who steal the apartments we want to renovate, rabbits who steal our wives. Everyone who doesn’t see us, doesn’t understand us, doesn’t care about us.
“There were so many cars there that it took the younger man twenty minutes to get to the part of the garage where we were parked. Roger refused to move the car until he got there. […] [Roger] replied that it didn’t mean he’d change his mind about the economy or fuel taxes or Stockholmers. But then he said that he realized that in the young man’s eyes, Roger must look just like that politician on television […] And Roger didn’t want the man with the beard to think that meant they were all exactly the same.”
“What did you used to do?” the young woman asked.
Anna-Lena filled her lungs, simultaneously hesitant and proud.
“I was an analyst for an industrial company. Well, I suppose I was the senior analyst, really, but I did my best not to be.”
“Senior analyst?” Julia repeated, instantly ashamed of how that sounded.
Anna-Lena saw the surprise in her eyes, but she was used to it and didn’t take offense.
“Ro’s going to be a brilliant mom. She can make any child laugh, just like my mom, because their sense of humor hasn’t developed at all since they were nine.”
“You’re going to be a brilliant mom, too,” Estelle assured her.
“I don’t know. Everything feels such a big deal, and other parents all seem so…funny the whole time. […] I don’t actually like all children. I thought that would change, but I meet my friends’ children now and I still think they’re annoying and have a lousy sense of humor.”
“You don’t have to like all children. Just one. And children don’t need the world’s best parents, just their own parents. To be perfectly honest with you, what they need most of the time is a chauffeur.”
“They fled across the mountains, in the middle of winter, and the children each had to carry a sheet, and if they heard the sound of helicopters they were supposed to lie down in the snow with the sheet over them, so they couldn’t be seen. And their parents would run in different directions, so that if the men in the helicopter started firing, they’d fire at the moving targets. And not at…and I didn’t know what to…”
[…] [Ro’s] parents had taught her during their flight through the mountains that humor is the soul’s last line of defense, and as long as we’re laughing we’re alive, so bad puns and fart jokes were their way of expressing their defiance against despair.
“Yes, let’s have something to eat. This has all turned out to be rather pleasant, hasn’t it, getting to know each other like this? And that’s all thanks to you!” Estelle beamed.
“I’m sure the police won’t shoot you. Not much, anyway,” Anna-Lena said comfortingly.
“Why don’t we all go outside with you? They won’t fire if we all leave at the same time!” Julia insisted.
“There must be a way out, if it’s possible to sneak into a viewing, then it must be possible to sneak out,” Lennart pointed out.
“Let’s all sit down and make a plan!” Roger demanded.
“I just said Knut was parking the car because I get lonely sometimes. And it feels better to pretend that he’s on his way. Especially at this time of year, he always used to like New Year, we used to stand at the kitchen window watching the fireworks. Well…we used to stand on the balcony for years…but I couldn’t bring myself to go out there after something that happened down on the bridge ten years ago. It’s a long story.”
Because it wasn’t Lennart who opened the door when Jim showed up with the pizzas. It was the bank robber, the real bank robber. Both Roger and Lennart had insisted on being allowed to wear the ski mask, but after a long pause she had said no. She had looked at them, her voice gentle with appreciation, and then given them a determined nod.
“Obviously I can’t set a good example to my daughters and teach them not to do idiotic things now. But I might at least be able to show them how you take responsibility for your actions.”
“What did you need the money from the bank robbery for?”
The desperation on her face revealed the chaos in her heart as she said: “To pay the rent. I needed six thousand five hundred. My husband’s lawyer was threatening to take the girls away from me if I didn’t have anywhere to live.”
Jim held onto the handrail to stop himself collapsing as his heart broke. Empathy is like vertigo. Six thousand five hundred, because she thought she’d lose her children otherwise. Her children.
“There are rules, legislation, no one can just take your children away from you simply because…,” he began, then thought better of it and said: “But now they can…now you’ve held up a bank and…” His voice almost gave out as he whispered: “You poor child, what have you got yourself mixed up in?”
“This isn’t just an apartment, it’s my home, I don’t want to hand it over to someone who’s just going to be passing through, to make money from it. I want someone who’s going to love living here, like I have. Maybe that’s hard for a young person to understand.”
That wasn’t true. There wasn’t a single person in the apartment who didn’t understand perfectly.
“You’re a good police officer, son,” Jim will say, looking down at the ground. He’ll want to add but an even better person, but won’t be able to bring himself to say it.
“You’re not always such a damn good police officer, Dad,” Jack will grin up at the clouds. He’ll want to add but I’ve learned everything else from you, but the words won’t quite come out.
They’ll go home. Watch television. Have a beer together.
The man who sent it to her ten years ago wrote down everything he thought she needed to know. It was the last thing he ever told anyone. Only four words in length, no more than that. The four biggest little words one person, anyone at all, can say to another:
It wasn’t your fault.
By the time the letter hits the water Zara is already walking away, toward the far side of the bridge. There’s a car parked there, waiting for her. Lennart is inside it. Their eyes meet when she opens the door. He lets her put the music on as loud as she wants. She’s planning to do her utmost to get tired of him.