Back in January, I gave one of my friends The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin for her birthday because I’d heard it was an uplifting novel about books. I finally got a chance to read it myself last month when my husband gave me my own copy for my birthday. I absolutely loved this warm, moving, funny novel that is full of literary references.
A.J. Fikry is the grumpy owner of a bookstore on tiny Alice Island, off the coast of Massachusetts. Although A.J. loves books and reading, his wife, Nic, was the enthusiastic salesperson, and now that she is gone, he lives alone over the struggling bookstore. As the novel opens, a new publishing sales rep named Amelia is on her way to visit A.J. and Island Books; her predecessor warned her about A.J.’s particular tastes and demeanor. In her brief meeting with A.J., his dismissive manner is true to form.
That evening, as with most others, A.J. closes the bookstore, goes upstairs, and drowns his sorrows in a bottle of wine and a frozen dinner, sharing the table with his most prized possession, a rare volume of early Poe poems. In the morning, the mess is cleaned up, and his rare book is missing, so A.J. hurries to the police station in the first of many hilarious scenes in this novel. Soon after, something unexpected is left in the bookstore, something that changes A.J.’s life forever.
I won’t describe more of the plot because half the fun of this novel is its unexpected twists and turns. Main characters besides A.J. and Amelia include the local police chief Lambiase, who enjoys reading detective novels, and A.J.’s sister-in-law, Ismay, and her husband, Daniel, who writes novels. As A.J.’s life changes, so does the bookstore, and the whole community with it.
Each chapter opens with a brief synopsis of a short story, apparently a collection of A.J.’s favorites, with reasons why he likes them, though it isn’t clear at first to whom he is writing these missives. In addition, books, reading, and literary references are woven throughout the book, in the bookstore’s business, A.J.’s reading, the books Amelia represents, and Lambiase’s evolving tastes, as A.J. recommends books to him.
Overall, this is a warm, uplifting, clever novel about opening up to all that life has to offer, about serendipity, and about books and love. And it is funny – often laugh-out-loud, hilariously funny. My husband kept looking at me curiously as I read in bed at night, saying he had never heard me laugh so much while reading! It’s a fun, joyful ride that I never wanted to end – one of those books that you finish reading and just hold to your chest and sigh. I loved every moment of it (and now I want to read all of the short stories A.J. recommended!).
258 pages, Algonquin Books