If you haven't heard about Gabrielle Zevin's new novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, it was only a matter of time. Because book lovers everywhere know a good thing when they read it and this novel is the real deal. Word tends to spread quickly.
A.J. Fikry owns Island Books, the small, independent bookstore that serves the tiny Northeast island of Alice. A.J. isn't a particularly happy man, having lost his beloved wife and unborn child in a car accident not too long ago. He is also very persnickety and opinionated when it comes to books which, coupled with his anti-social tendencies, make running a community bookstore a challenging endeavor at best. In fact...
"Despite the fact that he loves books and owns a bookstore, A.J. does not particularly care for writers. He finds them to be unkempt, narcissistic, silly, and generally unpleasant people. He tries to avoid meeting the ones who've written books he loves for fear that they will ruin their books for him."
And so, it probably goes without saying that A.J.'s life is forever changed the night he discovers his bookstore unlocked and a light on and....a baby girl named Maya sitting alone in the children's section. With a note telling A.J. that the Maya's mother was leaving her with A.J. to be raised around books.
And when the mother's body washes ashore and something within A.J. tells him that adopting Maya is the right thing to do, well, A.J., Island Books, and indeed most of the small population on Alice Island is about to experience the wonder of change. And the best part? Most of these changes we get to experience through books.
Not only is each chapter prefaced by a short review of a short story A.J. wants Maya to read, but books are an integral part of every character in the novel. From the publishing house sales rep Amelia ("She can usually find something positive to say about a book or, failing that, the cover or, failing that, the author or, failing that, the author's website") to the local police Chief Lambiase ("At first, he had mainly bought mass-market paperbackets - Jeffery Deaver and James Patterson (or whoever writes for James Patterson) - and then A.J. graduates him to trade paperbacks to Jo Nesbo and Elmore Leonard. Both author are hits with Lambiase, so A.J. promotes him again to Walter Mosley and then Cormac McCarthy").
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is obviously a book for book lovers. So what more can I tell you save but to read it? You'll enjoy it. Really, you will.
I'll leave you with perhaps my favorite passage (it's difficult to choose...there were dozens I had marked by the time I turned the final page)......
"Mr. Fikry, don't you turn those Omar Sharif eyes of yours on me. I am outraged at you." Mrs. Cumberbatch pushes past him and slams a plump paperback on the counter. "The book you recommended to me yesterday is the worst book I have read in all my eighty-two years, and I would like my money back.
A.J. looks from the book to the old woman. "What was your problem with it?"
"Problems, Mr. Fikry. To begin with, it is narrated by Death! I have an eighty-two-year-old woman and I do not find it one bit pleasurable to read a five-hundred-fifty-two-page tome narrated by Death. I think it is a remarkably insensitive choice."
A.J. apologizes but he is not sorry. Who are these people who think a book comes with a guarantee that they will like it? He processes the return. The book's spine is broken. He will not be able to resell it. "Mrs. Cumberbatch," can cannot resist saying, "it appears that you read this. I wonder how far along you got."
"Yes, I read it," she replies. "I most certainly did read it. It kept me up all night. I was so angry with it. At this stage of my life I would rather not be kept up all night. Nor do I wish to have my tears jerked at the rate at which this novel jerked them. The next time you recommend a book to me, I hope you will keep that in mind, Mr. Fikry."
"I will," he says. "And I do apologize, Mrs. Cumberbatch. Most of our customers have rather liked The Book Thief."
Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Date: April 1, 2014