Sunday, March 22, 2015

Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

I worked in a bookstore after I got out of school. I'd thought it would be the best place in the world for me, a crazy book lover, to work. I mean, how could working with books make me unhappy? But I didn't reckon on the public and all of the things that were not about books, like vacuuming the store, tidying the children's section (yet again), counting down the cash drawer at night, and dealing with the public (it really does deserve a second mention). But if I am not cut out for working at a bookstore, I do still enjoy reading about them and the book obsessed folk who populate them. Gabrielle Zevin has grounded her newest novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, in a small independent bookstore, filled it with book lovers, and peppered it with literary references.

A.J. Fikry owns Island Books on Alice Island. He's a crusty and particular widower whose beloved, friendly wife took care of the community side of the bookstore before she was killed in a car accident. He only continues to live because he has no other choice but he keeps everyone at arms length, snapping at Amelia, the publisher's rep sent to work with him, and planning to sell his pristine copy of Poe's Tamerlane in order to close the store and retire into his much-deserved unhappiness. But after a drunken binge, Tamerlane disappears, scuttling those plans, and shortly thereafter everything in Fikry's life is upended.

This novel is very much a love letter to book lovers and to independent bookstore owners. It celebrates the power of story and the importance of books and bookstores. Zevin has sprinkled it with literary references and allusions, from the notes A.J. writes to Maya about his favorite short stories which preface each chapter to smaller, more hidden bits within the text itself. And for this gentle paean to books, the novel feels a bit like home. But it is also overly sentimental about love and loss, many of the characters are formulaic, there are big jumps in the timeline, and the ending is predictable. I so wanted to love this like everyone else has but while I found it sweet, I didn't love it. Yes, it is about hope and rebirth of sorts and the ways in which love for a person or people can change even the hardest heart but the Grinch did it better. If it wasn't for the setting of the book and the literary bent, I don't think it would have gotten all the accolades that it has gotten from the book community. It was a easy and charming powder puff of a read if you don't look too closely, floating happily along admiring the concept behind it rather than examining the actual content too deeply. It just could have been so much more.


  1. I definitely see why you'd think it was maudlin, but I think it was just my speed at this point in my life. I read it in a handful of sittings over a business trip, and it was just the simple, gentle story I needed to get me through all that stress. Perhaps if I'd read it at a different time, I'd have felt the same way you did.

  2. I find when anything gets too much hype, I don't enjoy it as much as I am prepared to. If that makes sense. And if I hear something is awful, I end up questioning that person's opinion, because I'll like, but not love, it.

  3. It is a beautiful read. I laughed when you mentioned dealing with people twice... oh yeah. THOSE people ;)

  4. I agree it could have been so much more. I wanted to love it too, but liked it instead. I think it turned a bit too saccharine for me


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