A valentine to booksellers and to all who love books, Gabrielle Zevin’s novel, ‘”The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry,” is filled with charm, warmth, humor, and affection.
A premature curmudgeon, A.J. Fikry is living a quiet and grumpy life on Alice Island after the accidental death of his wife. He is wallowing in self-pity. Life is not measuring up for him. He owns a bookstore – and as the story opens, sales have never been worse. That doesn’t stop him from being unspeakably rude to new Knightley Publishing rep Amelia Loman when she comes to call.
“Like,” he repeats with distaste. “How about I tell you what I don’t like? I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism. . . . I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and – I imagine this goes without saying – vampires.”
A.J. does like short stories, and Zevin has cleverly structured her novel around the stories he likes best. Each chapter opens with A.J.’s comments about a story – whether about Roald Dahl’s Lamb to the Slaughter or Raymond Carver’s What We Talk about When We Talk about Love. It is only as the novel draws to its bittersweet and affecting conclusion that it becomes clear why A.J. has made these comments.
Happily, A.J.’s life is about to change for the better when a precocious toddler is left with a note pinned to her Elmo doll in his shop. Captivated by Maya, he opens his heart -- and his life -- to her. And as he accepts Maya, he begins to rekindle dormant relationships with people who have never stopped caring for him.
A.J.’s storied life includes a love story. He eventually reads the book that Amelia had particularly recommended on her ill-fated visit – and loved it. While it is too late for big sales, he reaches out to her to let her know he had been wrong to reject her advice. “Sometimes books don’t find us until the right time,” he tells her. Happily, he finds Amelia in time to begin to share a life together – a life built on their love for each other and for the books they read.
“The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” is about how loneliness can be relieved by books. It’s about second chances and fresh beginnings. It’s about love -- the love a parent has for a child, the love that supports a marriage and the love all readers have for the books that move and affect them. It's a sweet book that is saved from sentimentality by Zevin’s graceful writing, sharp observations of small town life and the endangered world of bookselling and wry sense of humor and fun.
“The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” is available on amazon.com and at your favorite New York bookstores.