Title: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
No. of Pages: 272
Origins: Algonquin Books; She Reads Book Club
Release Date: 1 April 2014
Bottom Line: What a charming story
“A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died; his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history; and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island–from Chief Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward him; from Ismay, his sister-in-law, who is hell-bent on saving A.J. from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who persists in taking the ferry to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, he can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.
And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, though large in weight–an unexpected arrival that gives A.J. the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J., for the determined sales rep Amelia to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light, for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world. Or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming.”
Thoughts: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is the type of feel-good story that one sinks into with pleasure. Some of it is due to the smart book-speak that comes with owning a bookstore, interacting with publishers, and a character who loves to read. The rest is due to A. J. himself, his prickly demeanor, his reticence in crowds, and most importantly, his capacity to love.
It is a simple story, one without action or suspense. The most exciting thing to happen is the theft of A. J.’s prize possession. However, A. J. himself reminds readers not to get caught up in the big events and that the small events are often the best. As such, the story flows from small event to small event as smoothly as water flowing in a creek – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly but always moving forward without rest.
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry makes a reader smile with A. J.’s literary snobbery. He has very strong ideas about literature and is not afraid to share them with others. However, he also has a bookseller’s unique ability to find the perfect book for potential readers, and that will have any bibliophile giddy with excitement at the idea of someone else learning to love to read. The many mentions of popular novels and authors are like the little surprises in boxes of Cracker Jack and sure to delight those readers who are current on all the recent must-reads and other bookish drama over the past few years.
While the story switches narrators, and one gets a better overall picture of A. J. as a result, the story really shines in A. J.’s own words. Readers will laugh at his surprise reaction to the package he finds and the path his life takes as a result. His introversion will strike a chord with most readers as well, since a majority will be able to relate to his discomfort in new situations. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is truly a character-driven narrative because it could not be anything less.
The glimpse inside the life of a bookstore owner is fascinating for those who fantasize about such things. Ms. Zevin captures the frustrations, challenges, and rewards of providing books for others’ enjoyment. Ms. Zevin also captures life in a small town, in which everyone knows everyone else, in addition to the significance of love and friendship. For, even introverts like A. J. cannot live successfully and be healthy without human kindness and affection. As. A. J. learns this lesson, he blossoms into a beautiful human being, and the story becomes more charming.
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is a story about love – love of books, love of life, love of self, and love of each other. Told quietly without literary gimmicks or flowery prose, it strikes to the heart of its theme without fanfare. It conquers its readers not through exaggerated drama or nail-biting suspense but gently, through its clean imagery and undemanding narrative. It doesn’t just remind readers on how amazing life can be; it also reminds them how awesome life should be if we let it. It is a story for the ages.