THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY by Gabrielle Zevin
I enjoyed Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry so much that I recommended it not only for Great New Books, but for my neighborhood book club as well. In that book club we are passionate readers of all different ages and backgrounds, and we rarely unanimously like a book. A.J. Fikry passed that rare test. And we are not alone. The novel has been a New York Times bestseller, a #1 Indie Next Pick, and the #1 Library Reads Selection.
Why did we all like this one much? If I had to pick one reason I’d say it’s because Zevin managed to accomplish so much story and character development into less than 300 pages. Too often I read a book that is over 400 pages, and I end up saying to myself, This book could have been 100 pages shorter. Gabrielle Zevin took her inherent knowledge of pacing from her successful young adult novels and applied them to this adult story.
In The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, we get the perfect setting for anyone who loves bookstores, the imagined Island Books on Alice Island somewhere in the Northeast. We get some quirky small town characters that reminded me of the cast of Gilmore Girls, and we get a taste of love, friendship, the meaning of family, suspense, betrayal, crime, death, and plenty of literary references. We also get the most unlikely hero in A.J., who owns Island Books and begins the story as the snobbish curmudgeon that most readers (at least in my book club) detest on the spot, but grow to love. In the first chapter, A.J. tells a sales rep coming to show him the new catalogue from her publishing company the kind of books he will not read or order for his store:
“I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn’t be — basically gimmicks of any kind. . . I do not like genre mash-ups à la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children’s books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and — I imagine this goes without saying — vampires.”
You can imagine how he feels about ereaders.
A.J., not quite 40 when the book opens, has good reason to be so mean and unhappy. His wife has recently died, his store is failing, and his only friend is his former brother-in-law. Then early in the novel someone steals his most valuable rare book and someone leaves a priceless “package” in his store. A.J.’s life circumstances immediately change and his personality slowly changes as well. While the book starts out with a negative tone, the overall story is uplifting and entertaining.
I can’t tell you anything else more specific without ruining the plot points of this refreshingly short but packed novel. Just trust me and trust my book club, it’s a worthwhile read.
Have you read THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY? What did you think?