Thursday, April 10, 2014

Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Genre: Adult, contemporary
Published on April 1, 2014
Published by Algonquin Books
Pages: 260
Read From: 3.31.14 - 4.3.14

A.J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to me. 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 Chief Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward him; from Ismay, his sister-in-law, who is hell-bent on saving A.J. from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who persists in taking the ferry 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, he 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, though large in weight - an unexpected arrival that gives A.J. 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., for the determined sales rep Amelia to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light, 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.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? Yes; I love the simplicity of it – the classic silhouette and the beautiful red color. It’s the perfect kind of cover to draw one’s attention to it, in my opinion. It’s friendly, interesting, promises to be more than it seems.

Characters: I wouldn’t say that I necessarily liked anyone in this book. This is mostly due to my preferences in characters, and I am certain that there will be plenty of Readers who will like them. I didn’t really like any of them, but I enjoyed them for what they were, because none of them are boring. They’re all very interesting and fleshed out and realistic. But they all have moralistic flaws, and I am a real stickler for morality and decency. A.J. Fikry is probably one of the most unpleasant middle-aged men that one could ever meet. He says things with the deliberate intention of being rude, and he isn’t sorry for it one bit. Oddly enough, I found myself laughing over his dialogue and thoughts more than anyone else’s. Maybe I just enjoy curmudgeony humor. Does A.J. change? Yes and no. I mean, this book is about how the appearance of a young girl in his life transforms his grief into love. But the Author also acknowledges that people don’t change – not really. And so, while A.J.’s temper softens a bit, he’s still a curmudgeon who isn’t at all afraid to say what he thinks – and often in situations and about subjects that he shouldn’t. Amelia was nice enough, though I quite honestly have no idea what it was about A.J. that she liked. Daniel was a complete jerk, and Lambiase was a little too much of a “typical cop” for me to really connect with him. Maya, of course, was an adorable little girl who unfortunately turned into a rather typical teenager. All of these characters, though, add a lot to the mix of Alice Island, making for a vibrant and interesting community.

The Romance: Amelia and A.J. eventually fall for one another. Sorry if anyone considers that a spoiler, but the synopsis rather hints heavily at it. I didn’t really get into the romance because I didn’t like A.J. or Amelia enough. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the romance was hardly even a focus of the book. It’s there and it happens, but the plot isn’t drowning in it. A.J. and Amelia get to know each other rather well and they know one another’s flaws, so the romance was mature and believable. It wasn’t built on A.J.’s wanting to sleep with Amelia.

Plot:Like,” he repeats with distaste. “How about I tell you what I don’t like? I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmodern 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 find literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy to be distasteful – nonfiction only, please. I do not like genre mash-ups a 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. I rarely stock debuts, chick lit, poetry, or translations. I would prefer not to stock series, but the demands of my pocketbook require me to. For your part, you needn’t tell me about the ‘next big series’ until it is ensconced on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Above all, Ms. Loman, I find slim literary memoirs about little old men whose little old wives have died from cancer to be absolutely intolerable. No matter how well written the sales rep claims they are. No matter how many copies you promise I’ll sell on Mother’s Day.” (pg. 13-14) A.J. Fikry is the owner of the sole bookstore on Alice Island, but ever since his wife Nic’s death, he’s gone from mildly unpleasant to downright rude. His reading tastes are extremely particular, and because of that his bookstore doesn’t stock what’s current or what’s popular. Amelia Loman, the newest sales rep to Knightley Publishing, has no idea what a challenge she’s been given trying to sell books to A.J. Fikry and his struggling business. But it’s a challenge she’s not going to back down from. Then one day A.J.’s life turns completely upside down. A rare collection of Poe’s earliest writings are stolen, thereby destroying his retirement plan, and someone leaves a toddler in the bookstore, with a note requesting that A.J. take care of her. This isn’t how A.J. wanted things to go. But life never turns out the way one plans, and A.J. isn’t the only person little Maya touches, but the entire town of Alice Island. This is one of those books that has no specific plot, but meanders through several years of various character’s lives and covers many life-changing incidents. I don’t normally like books like that, and especially not Adult fiction. But The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was incredibly captivating. Even though I didn’t necessarily care about anyone, I was completely interested in what happened on Alice Island – and more importantly, to the bookstore. I really have no good way of explaining why I liked the plot so much; it was just one of those surprise reads that I just loved.

Believability: No complaints.

Writing Style: Third person, present tense. I know I’ve said it a million times; I’m going to say it again: I don’t like present tense. However, it worked amazingly well in this book. I in fact forgot it was in present tense most of the time. Each chapter begins with a short letter A.J. writes to Maya about a book he recommends to her, and I thoroughly enjoyed these. Part of what made me love this book so much was how the Author wrote about the book community. She had such a way of describing, books, bookish people, bookstores, the book business, and just all things books. I found myself smiling incessantly every time she mentioned a book I had read before.

Content: 8 f-words, 5 s-words, 1 g--damn. This isn't my most accurate count, because I didn't tally the first time I read the book, and I had to do a skim-through to get this tally.

Conclusion: It was bittersweet, but I figured it would be. A blurb I read for this book described it as a book for and about bookish people. It cannot be described in any other way. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is all things books, and it really would be an excellent choice for a book club. There’s many things in it to discuss. The characters, the situations, the real-life turns the plot takes, and even the books discussed within the book. I cannot 100% say what it is about this Adult novel that I loved so much, but it swept me away and I look forward to re-reading it when I get the chance.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, twenty-and-up, fans of what I call “book fiction” (fiction about books and bookstores), and thoughtful, bittersweet narrations.

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