Anxious People, Hooked, and Dopesick

I think of Anxious People (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️) by Fredrik Backman as crime fiction. It is a hostage drama, after all, that starts with a crime as a person tries to rob a cashless bank. Realising the predicament, the failed bank robber runs away, crosses the street and ends up in an apartment during a sales viewing. Potential buyers are taken hostage…by accident. It is, after all, a story about idiots – the author warns.

After that, one short chapter at a time, we are given clues about the bank robber and the hostages and how they ended up spending the last day of the year stuck together. Those chapters work like little blocks, building a multiple-perspective story through flashbacks and witness interviews, which inevitably reminded me of Little White Lies.

Anxious People is an entertaining read (or a listen) about human anxieties and connections. I loved how Backman challenges stereotypes and teaches his readers a lesson whilst they learn who the characters are. Because no one is who they seem at first, I found uncovering the truth thoroughly enjoyable. Like colourful jigsaw puzzle pieces, together one by one, reveal a moving picture at the end.

It is a comedy that offers an apt commentary on our relationships and what is demanded of us to live well with the challenges of the contemporary world.

It probably wouldn’t be such an enjoyable experience for me if it weren’t for the audiobook’s narrator, Marin Ireland. The actress makes each character so distinct she transforms this book into a radio drama full of vigour and humour.

I never read anything by Backman before, but I will have him in mind when looking for something light and funny. He is the multi-million-copy best-selling author of A Man Called Ove, which I have already put on my to-read list. I have also noticed the Anxious People adaptation on Netflix, but after watching a trailer, I decided not to spoil my reading experience.

Speaking of bank robberies, reading Anxious People, I could not think of Hooked (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️), a tremendous Apple + podcast I listened to in 2021. It is a splendid story based on a three-year-long conversation between journalist Josh Dean and Tony Hathaway, an extremely skilful bank robber. When the police caught him in 2014 in Seatle, Tony robbed 30 banks, a number recognised as ‘one of the most prolific bank robbery streaks in American history.’

Even more noteworthy is that before Tony Hathaway became a notorious criminal, he was an extraordinarily accomplished and talented top design engineer at Boeing. He had had a rewarding career and a fulfilling personal life until he suffered a sports injury. He was prescribed OxyContin, a highly addictive, opioid-based painkiller, which ultimately destroyed his life.

To an extent, it is a true crime story. Still, as much as Tony Hathaway is a criminal, he is also a victim of a prescribed drug and pharmaceutical industry that benefits from the opioid addiction crisis.

Across the years of recording conversations, Josh and Tony established a bond and friendship, making the podcast a very special listen. With all his faults and vulnerabilities, Tony is an ever-optimistic, eloquent storyteller with great humour who doesn’t pity himself and takes full responsibility for his actions. It only adds to the strengths of the podcast, which successfully debunks the stereotype of an addict and clarifies misconceptions about the opioid epidemic.

I listened to Hooked almost at the same time as I watched Dopesick (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️), a HULU series. I watched it on Disney + in the UK, and it was one of the best things on TV I saw in 2021. It is a tremendous production based on a non-fiction book by Beth Macy, initially published in 2018 (yet to be read). It explores America’s opioid addiction from multiple perspectives: executives at Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family that owns it, a local doctor who looks after a small community of miners and assistant US attorneys who finally built a case against the company.

It was an exceptionally acted drama starring Rosario Dawson, Michael Keaton, Peter Sarsgaard, Kaitlyn Dever, and Michael Stuhlbarg (to name just a few). But the assembled cast in this multilayered drama is just fantastic and just mentioning it here makes me want to watch it again. It masterly shows how big pharmaceutical companies are responsible for the opioid epidemic in the US and the complexities and impossibilities of bringing people in power to justice. This article in The Guardian makes it even more heartbreaking as it shows the sad realities of the system.