” He has read enough to know there are no collections where each story is perfect. Some hits. Some misses. If you’re lucky, a standout. And in the end, people only remember the standouts anyway, and they don’t remember those for very long. ” (Part II, The Bookseller, p.249)
Though my taste runs to books that are less sentimental than The Stories Life of A.J. Fikry, the title character is impossible not to love. Fikry owns Island Books on Alice Island off Massachusetts, a summer destination. He’s not yet 40 but already widowed, his wife, Nic, dead in an auto accident. He’s lonesome, cantankerous, and a bit of a literary snob who only stocks high-brow literature. In a way, he lives in this bubble of a dream where he yearns for a distinct narrative.
Sometimes books don’t find us until the right time. (Part I, A Good Man is Hard to Find, p.92)
Island Books drifts toward bankruptcy. Then, within a few weeks, his collectible copy of Poe’s Tamerlane is pilfered from the store, and 2-year-old Maya is deposited at his bookstore with an instruction note from her mother. Fikry cannot bear to leave the precocious child to the system once it becomes apparent that her single mother, a matriculating Harvard student, has drowned herself in the sea. He adopts Maya, spurred by her immediate attachment in him. The decision to take up parenthood reinvigorates his life and his bookstore, and along comes an overdue romance with Amelia Loman, a book rep. It takes four years for him to ask her out. Even the whole town has warmed up to this man who had been so snobbish and cold.
Bookstores attract the right kind of folk. Good people like A.J. and Amelia. And I like talking about books with people who like talking about books. I like paper. I like how it feels, and I like the feel of a book in my back pocket. (Part II, The Bookseller, p.255)
Zevin is not heavy-handed on the romance department, but the book is paced by a few unexpected turns and complications. Any potholes in the plot are quickly smoothed over. The life of A.J. Fikry makes me smile and provokes empathy at the same time. A little bundle of joy and redemption changes his life forever. It’s all very modest and earnest. He quickly figures out that books and reading can bind lives as surely as any shred love. The book takes its course and comes back in full circle where everything is explained and tied up in a bow. I love the chapter headers that are brief notes, like shelf-talkers, that A.J. writes to Maya. They are small expressions of a parent’s love as well as odes to books and the written words.
258 pp. Algonquin Books. Trade Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]
Filed under: Books, Contemporary Literature, General Fiction, Literature Tagged: | Books, Books on Books, Contemporary Literature, Gabrielle Zevin, General Fiction, Literature, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry