The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Cabrielle Zevin is a novel, set in the world of bookstores, and about people who love books. To me, writers who write books like these are swinging for the fences. If they get most of it right, people like me are going to love it. On the flip side people like me are more likely to see if something is wrong, and out the author for his faults. I am happy to say however that Ms. Zevin gets most of it right, and I found this book to be quite captivating.
It’s not going to blow you away with a twisting plot, but what it does do is capture the textures and emotions of the everyday and bring it to life with feeling and intelligence. The prose is quirky and there are tons of little lines tucked away like gems that makes one want to start tossing out quotes.
A.J Fikry is the owner and operator of a small bookstore on an island of the coast of New England. His wife has passed away and stumbling through life, drinking too much wine and eating micro-waved Indian food. He meets a new publisher’s rep, Amelia Loman. He makes her cry, and feels badly about it. Then someone rather improbably leaves a young girl at his bookstores, and A.J. ends up more or less adopting her by consensus. Amelia continues to show up in A.J. life as we watch Maya grow up. Eventually, without too much surprise, A.J. and Amelia becomes a couple, and Maya wants to become an author. Then, when things look their rosiest they take a rather tragic turn, but everyone bucks up and handles it with quiet dignity that makes the Kleenex come out by the handful. The way that Maya ends up with A.J. seems a little too simple and rosy, and the vagaries of the early scenes between A. J. and Amelia feel a bit forced, but eventually I was won over by the sheer conviction and simple honesty of Ms. Zevin’s approach.
What makes this book stand out is the deep feeling and sensibility that Ms. Zevin uses in handling her characters. A.J. is rather prickly throughout, but manages to be sympathetic, while Amelia is simply stunning, one of those rare characters that seem so real that I half-expected her to step out of the book. Maya is strong as well, and all of the supporting characters are handled deftly, with sympathy and candor. The device of naming the chapters of the book after famous works of fiction is kind of a gimmick, but manages to work because of the sheer exuberances of Fikry’s voice. As I mentioned earlier this book is not going to blow you away with pyrotechnics and flash, but it’s honest invocation of a quiet but moving story are very satisfying.