Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Rating: 4 Stars
On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means. A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly. And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is, upon further reflection, the type of deceptively crafted title I absolutely love to devour on a rainy spring afternoon. Everything from the brief book reviews which preface its every chapter to the odd little details the author sprinkles within the opening pages of the novel--only to re-introduce them in miraculous means towards the end of the story--are utterly charming, delightful, and more than a little engaging. Fikry's book reviews not only introduce subtle events in every chapter to come, but they are written from the future as the story struggles to catch up to his current timeline, a method which works to perfection, crafted and re-crafted by Zevin throughout the course of the book.
It's difficult for me to pinpoint exactly what it is about this novel that just works. Is it the quaint little bookstore in a tiny off-the-coast island, inhabited by citizens whose lives are extraordinary in their ordinariness? Or is it the transformation of A.J. Fikry, a rather aloof widowed bookstore owner whose life changes the day baby Maya shows up on his doorstep? Or, perhaps, it is simply that Zevin writes her contemporary title in the tone of magical realism, introducing even the simplest of emotions such as love or hope or happiness as pure magic. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry isn't a sugar-coated tale, though--for the most part--it appears so. Yet, it is the minuscule sprinkles of sorrow and grounded reality in a tale of love and redemption that, ultimately, make this a journey to remember, no matter how many times it is read.