Fredrik Backman: Anxious People

Vem, kako piše Backman in obožujem njegov stil pisanja, ob katerem bralca malodane na koncu vsakega poglavja pusti obviseti na robu prepada. Vživljam se v njegove zgodbe in poistovečam z njegovimi liki, njegova uspešnica Mož z imenom Ove je ena mojih najljubših knjig vseh časov. Privlačita me transparentnost notranjih bojev njegovih protagonistov ter mestoma že skoraj knausgardovsko opisovanje problematike (predvsem) partnerskih odnosov, ob katerih me je že ničkolikokrat zgrabila žalost. Ali tesnoba, če hočete. Iskreno priporočam.

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.

Because there’s such an unbelievable amount that we’re all supposed to be able to cope with these days. You’re supposed to have a job, and somewhere to live, and a family, and you’re supposed to pay taxes and have clean underwear and remember the password to your damn Wi-Fi. Some of us never manage to get the chaos under control, so our lives simply carry on, the world spinning through space at two million miles an hour while we bounce about on its surface like so many lost socks. Our hearts are bars of soap that we keep losing hold of; the moment we relax, they drift off and fall in love and get broken, all in the wink of an eye. We’re not in control. So we learn to pretend, all the time, about our jobs and our marriages and our children and everything else. We pretend we’re normal, that we’re reasonably well educated, that we understand “amortization levels” and “inflation rates”. That we know how sex works. In truth, we know as much about sex as we do about USB leads, and it always takes us four tries to get those little buggers in. (Wrong way round, wrong way round, wrong way round, there! In!) We pretend to be good parents when all we really do is provide our kids with food and clothing and tell them off when they put chewing gum they find on the ground in their mouths. We tried keeping tropical fish once and they all died. And we really don’t know more about children than tropical fish, so the responsibility frightens the life out of us each morning. We don’t have a plan, we just do our best to get through the day, because there’ll be another one coming along tomorrow.

“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 all the times they weren’t hit in the head by a swing as a child. Parents are defined by their mistakes.”

But this wasn’t necessarily the bank robber’s fault. It was society’s. Not that society was responsible for the social injustices that led the bank robber onto a path of crime (which society may well in fact be responsible for, but that’s completely irrelevant right now), but because in recent years society has turned into a place where nothing is named according to what it is anymore. There was a time when a bank was a bank. But now there are evidently “cashless” banks, banks without any money, which is surely something of a travesty? It’s hardly surprising that people get confused and society is going to the dogs when it’s full of caffeine-free coffee, gluten-free bread, alcohol-free beer.

She was just a miserable person. That was because she didn’t have any real friends, not even on social media, and instead spent most of her time getting upset that celebrities she didn’t like hadn’t had their life together ruined, again. Just before the bank robber came in she had been busy refreshing her browser to find out if two famous actors were going to get divorced or not. She hoped they were, because sometimes it’s easier to live with your own anxieties if you know that no one else is happy, either.

Because the terrible thing about becoming an adult is being forced to realize that absolutely nobody cares about us, we have to deal with everything ourselves now, find out how the whole world works. Work and pay bills, use dental floss and get to meetings on time, stand in line and fill out forms, come to grips with cables and put furniture together, change tires on the car and charge the phone and switch the coffee machine off and not forget to sign the kids up for swimming lessons. We open our eyes in the morning and life is just waiting to tip a fresh avalanche of “Don’t Forget!”s and “Remember!”s over us. We don’t have time to think or breathe, we just wake up and start digging through the heap, because there will be another one dumped on us tomorrow. We look around occasionally, at our place of work or at parents’ meetings or out in the street, and realize with horror that everyone else seems to know exactly what they’re doing. We’re the only ones who have to pretend. Everyone else can afford stuff and has a handle on other stuff and enough energy to deal with even more stuff. And everyone else’s children can swim.

But we weren’t ready to become adults.
Someone should have stopped us.

“And… winners earn a lot of money, which is also important, I assume? What do you do with yours?”

“I buy distance from other people.”

The psychologist had never heard that response before.

“How do you mean?”

“Expensive restaurants have bigger gaps between the tables. First class on airplanes has no middle seats. Exclusive hotels have separate entrances for guests staying in suites. The most expensive thing you can buy in the most densely populated places on the planet is distance.”

They had always been people of simple words. Anna-Lena may have hoped that would improve when they had children, but the reverse had happened. 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.

Maybe it was his mom’s fault. She held the two of them together, him and his dad, but perhaps that sometimes distracted him, and for some reason she had managed to get into his thoughts the whole damn time today. Just as much trouble in death as in life, that woman. Maybe somewhere there was another priest who was more difficult than her, but there could hardly be two. She got into arguments with everyone when she was alive, maybe more with her son than anyone, and that didn’t stop after her funeral. Because the people we argue with hardest of all are not the ones who are completely different from us, but the ones who are almost no different at all.

“And so we started to swap books. He read such wonderful things. I don’t have the words to describe it, but it was like going on a journey with someone. Where didn’t matter. To outer space. It went on for a long time. I started to fold down the corners of pages when there was a bit I really liked, and he started to write little comments in the margins. Just the odd word. ‘Beautiful.’ ‘True.’”

That’s the power of literature, you know, it can act like little love letters between people who can only explain their feelings by pointing at other people’s.”

The hardest thing about death is the grammar, the tense. The fact that she won’t be angry when she sees he bought a new sofa without consulting her first. She won’t be anything, she isn’t on her way home. She was. […] That she used to do this, that she used to do that. She was, she is. She was Jim’s wife. Jack’s mom is dead.

The grammar. That’s the worst thing of all, Jim thinks.

The desk is narrow, the two women probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable sitting so close to each other if it hadn’t been there between them. Sometimes we don’t need distance, just barriers.

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