The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel, by Gabrielle Zevin (Workman)
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is gem of a book: gentle in spirit, generous, intelligent. It’s one of those quick reads that one wishes could last longer because it would be a pleasure to spend more time between its covers.
The central characters are A. J., widowed proprietor of Island Books on Alice Island, just offshore from Hyannis, who has very particular tastes in literature and sells only what he loves; Amelia, the new rep for a minor publishing house; and Maya, a two-year-old abandoned in A. J.’s shop. Based solely on these descriptions, the reader can predict much of the plot of the novel. But here’s the thing of it: even when one knows what’s coming (and there are a few surprises in store) one can still enjoy the journey.
Gabrielle Zevin has a knack for creating quirky, believable characters that extends to those on the periphery, as well as those in the center. A particular pleasure of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is watching the characters grow as readers. Maya moves from picture books to reading on her own. The local police chief not not only moves from reading pot-boilers to more literary fare, he winds up leading the island’s largest book group.
The novel’s chapters are each prefaced by one of A. J.’s brief write-ups about a particular short story or book—the kind of thing you’d find on a shelf card. In this way, readers are invited not just to enjoy Zevin’s narrative, but to reflect on their own reading experiences.
This is a book that will leave you feeling a clear-eyed hopefulness, an understanding that, while many things can go wrong, those that go right can make even the most ordinary life worth living.