Book Review: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
When I finished reading this book and then went back and looked at the book blurb:
In the spirit of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Gabrielle Zevin’s enchanting novel is a love letter to the world of books – and booksellers – that changes our lives by giving us the stories that open our hearts and enlighten our minds.
… my first thought was “Damn.” Because in my head, I wanted to say something about this being a love letter to book lovers, and it’s already been said. Double damn.
But really, how can I complain — when I have just read a book that I LOVED so, so much?
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is one of those quiet, unassuming books that you think will be sweet and pleasant — and then BAM! It sneaks up on you, grabs you by the heart, and makes you feel so many feels.
A. J. Fikry, when we first meet him, is a sad, lonely man. A. J. owns Island Books, the one and only bookstore on Alice Island, a short ferry ride away from Hyannis, Massachusetts. The store is not doing very well, and neither is A. J. Since his wife’s death almost two years earlier, A. J. is drifting through his life, drinking himself into oblivion once a week, being grumpy to his customers, and just not finding a reason to care.
All that changes when a drunken night during which a valuable Poe manuscript goes missing triggers a bizarre chain of events which leads to the discovery of a toddler abandoned in the bookstore — who soon becomes the center of A. J.’s life.
As A. J. starts waking up to the possibility of a happy future, his business picks up as well, and little by little Island Books becomes the center of bookish activity on the island. My favorite bookish happening is the Chief’s Choice book club, started by the local police chief and consisting of a book group for cops — which no cop really can decline to participate in, since the chief is the one organizing it.
Meanwhile, a very persistent sales rep from a small publishing company seems to make a very large impression on A. J., and their business relationship slowly blooms into something more, with lots of awkwardness and false starts, but always with a shared passion for books.
Can I just say yet again how much I loved this book? Excuse me for gushing, but The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry seems tailor-made for anyone whose life revolves around reading. (Yes, that includes me, and I suspect it includes anyone reading this review!) Amidst the story of A. J.’s personal journey is a meditation on reading and how a life can be shaped and measured by the books read along the way. So much of what I feel about reading is encapsulated here, and it’s simply beautiful to meet so many characters who feel this way too.
The writing is clever without being forced, yet I found myself laughing out loud at various points, such as :
Ismay has stylishly cut, spiky red hair, pale skin and eyes, long, spindly limbs. All her features are a little too large, her gestures a little too animated. Pregnant, she is like a very pretty Gollum.
Lambiase is recently divorced. He had married his high school sweetheart, so it took him a long time to realize that she was not, in fact, a sweetheart or a very nice person at all.
And yet, even with the humorous tone always present beneath the surface, the emotions are real and visceral:
A. J. watches Maya in her pink party dress, and he feels a vaguely familiar, slightly intolerable bubbling inside of him. He wants to laugh out loud or punch a wall. He feels drunk or at least carbonated. Insane. At first, he thinks this is happiness, but then he determines it’s love. Fucking love, he thinks. What a bother. It’s completely gotten in the way of his plan to drink himself to death, to drive his business to ruin. The most annoying thing about it is that once a person gives a shit about one thing, he finds he has to start giving a shit about everything.
Ultimately, though, what I love most about this wonderful book (and yes, I pretty much loved it all) is what is has to say to about readers and their reading passions:
When she told me it was her favorite, it suggested to me strange and wonderful things about her character that I had not guessed, dark places that I might like to visit.
People tell boring lies about politics, God, and love. You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question: What is your favorite book?
Don’t miss out: Read The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. Filled with beauty and sorrow, love and humor, and an abiding love for books and readers, this book was an unexpected delight for me — and apparently is now one of those books: Books that fill you up with so much emotion and enjoyment that you want to run right out and start putting copies in people’s hands.
Title: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publication date: April 1, 2014
Length: 230 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary
Source: Review copy courtesy of Algonquin Books via Netgalley