The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.
06 May 2014
by Gabrielle Zevin
I felt vaguely dirty upon finishing the novel The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry.
I got it from the library because I saw it getting a lot of word-of-mouth attention, and it popped up on the New York Times bestseller list, and sometimes I like to keep an eye on the current tastes in fiction. And then I started it because I heard the first chapter read on my public radio station's "Chapter a Day" program, and I thought, hey, that book's here, I should just read it. And then I kept reading it because it's about a bookseller and a bookstore.
But did I enjoy it? Well, not really. As a matter of fact, I think it was totally formulaic and manipulative, and I further think that Algonquin Books (a publisher of whom I have thought very highly in the past) should be just the tiniest bit ashamed of themselves for publishing such schlock.
The story is: small-town independent bookseller A.J. Fikry is foundering. His wife has died, his business isn't doing well, he's drinking himself to death, and his retirement plan, a first edition of a rare Edgar Allan Poe book, has just been stolen. But then: a baby is left in his store, abandoned by a mother who wants her "to grow up in a place with books." He falls in love with another book professional. Life is good, and then...well, I don't like to give spoilers. But what follows next is a tear-jerking device of the highest order. So yeah, yeah, reading is great and love is everything. I don't argue with the message. But I do not enjoy novels that purport to be gentle little things delivering that message with a sentimental sledgehammer. Consider the folksiness of an early passage:
"That Christmas and for weeks after, Alice buzzes with the news that A.J. Fikry the widower/bookstore owner has taken in an abandoned child. It is the most gossip-worthy story Alice has had in some time--probably since Tamerlane was stolen--and what is of particular interest is the character of A. J. Fikry. The town had always considered him to be snobbish and cold, and it seems inconceivable that such a man would adopt a baby just because it was abandoned in his store." (p. 69.)
I did not like this book in pretty much exactly the same way I did not like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And do you hear much about that book anymore? Nah, pretty instantly forgettable. And I'm guessing this one will be the same way.
Other reviews: Kirkus Reviews, Washington Post