The bank robbery that begins the book isn’t actually a bank robbery, and the resulting hostage situation that follows in an apartment across the street isn’t really a hostage situation, not to mention the rabbit in the bathroom that isn’t a rabbit or the toy gun that fires real bullets. Most important, none of the artfully drawn characters are who they seem to be, as you’ll discover when you get to know them.
Like Backman’s highly successful earlier novels, especially The Man Called Ove and Beartown, this is a character-driven novel with absolutely wonderful characters—all anxious (which is to say realistic), with human flaws that won’t stop you from ultimately loving and rooting for them. The plot–a kind of locked-in mystery comedy that I’d be too embarrassed to even try to summarize–is the vehicle for exploring the inner depth of the characters, or more accurately, what life has done to the characters.
They include the most incompetent bank robber you’ll ever meet, someone who only wants to steal enough money for a month’s rent; a kind, elderly woman who’s waiting for a husband who’ll never arrive; a father and son cop team who seemingly disagree on everything except what’s important; a pregnant lesbian couple worried about what life has in store for them; a hapless real estate agent; and…well, you get the idea. At first impression, they are comic caricatures of real people, but like in real life, that’s only true until you get to know them.
There are many moments in the novel when you’ll laugh out loud and many when you’ll be caught up short by Backman’s insight, wisdom, and understanding of people trying to find happiness in a crazy world. Backman is a genius at revealing uncomfortable truths, taking our secret thoughts and saying them out loud. In the midst of the chaos and humor, Backman surprises the reader with poignant observations about stress, marriage, parenting, the need to find a purpose in life and why some people just can’t.
There were moments in reading this novel when I got annoyed–there’s some unnecessary repetition and some of the jokes get tiresome–but Backman ties it all together in the end, making you understand there was a reason for everything he did. Nothing is random, everything has a purpose. My purpose is to give this book my highest recommendation.
P.S. If you haven’t had a chance to read my latest novel, The Question Is Murder, now’s your chance. The ebook version is on sale this week (Aug. 31-Sept. 3) for just 99 cents in Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Apple and other ebook formats.