The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin; published 2014 by Algonquin
Genre: Literary Fiction
Opening line: “On the ferry from Hyannis to Alice Island, Amelia Loman paints her nails yellow and, while waiting for them to dry, skims her predecessor’s notes.”
A.J. Fikry is the crusty owner of Island Books, the sole bookstore on the small island of Alice. His first meeting with Amelia, the new sales rep at Knightley Press, goes horribly wrong. His wife recently died in a car crash, and he’s slumped in depression. Then a baby is left in his bookstore, and he finds himself caring more than he thought. After a weekend with baby Maya, he decides to adopt her. Soon Amelia sees a big change in A.J.
From my summary, you probably think you know how this story ends. But you don’t. Zevin successfully takes a plot that has been covered before and adds just the right amount of novelty, character, and surprise to it. Really, what I loved about this book was the characters. A.J. is hilarious: sarcastic, curmudgeonly, but ultimately endearing. Amelia is just adorable, and she reminds me of several bookish nerds I know. Maya is the most precocious child; I wanted to adopt her myself.
By far, my favorite scene was the one told from Maya’s point of view. Zevin perfectly captures the childish simplicity:
The wallpaper has a bumpy, swirling pattern, and it is pleasing to rub her face against it. She will read the word damask in a book one day and think, Yes, of course that’s what it’s called. In contrast, the word wainscoting will come as a huge disappointment.
Each chapter begins with a short note from A.J. to Maya about a short story, A.J.’s favorite literary form. These notes are poignant and sweet. I loved that the book is filled with insights into the life of a reader:
As a bookseller, I assure you that prizewinning can be somewhat important for sales but rarely matters much in terms of quality.
Why is any one book different from any other book? They are different, A.J. decides, because they are. We have to look inside many. We have to believe. We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and again.
We are not quite novels…
We are not quite short stories…
In the end, we are collected works.
You might also like:
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert