Rating: 2.5 Stars
Synopsis: A.J. Fikry is a grumpy widower and bookstore owner. His life changes when Maya crawls into it. A heartwarming and easy read for any bibliophile.
As the title suggests, this is the story of the life of A.J. Fikry. At least it is the “collected works” of his adult life. A.J. is a man greatly impacted by his circumstances: traumatized by his wife’s death, compelled to care for an orphaned baby, forced out of his antisocial shell to become a “curator of culture” for his small town. He allows himself to influence and be influenced by those around him. In my opinion, the characters are all a bit underdeveloped. Ismay, the sister of A.J.’s dead wife, seems the most complex, Maya, A.J.’s adopted daughter, the most compelling, and Lambaise, a friend, the most likeable.
The structure and tone of the novel is light, pleasant, and easy to read. This is where Zevin allows herself and A.J. to discuss the meaning and wonder of life. Each chapter begins with a brief reflection of a short story A.J. has read. These reflections are directed to Maya as suggested reading. They also provide insight into the greater meaning of each short story and what A.J. hopes Maya will learn. These snippits of A.J.’s writing provide insight into his character, and how he changes over the years. Additionally, with the fast paced tone, Zevin skips over years of time that lack interest and highlight the events and times in A.J.’s and Maya’s life together. At one point A.J. refers to life not as a novel or a short story, but as a collected work. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is structured just like that: collections of moments explaining and demonstrating who A.J is.
I would say this book gets its interest and intrigue from the structure of the book, the novelty of A.J.’s profession, and its appeal to bibliophiles. A.J. owns the only bookstore on Alice Island; he is picky about the books he selects to sell and prefers quality literary fiction. The novel discusses the challenges for book sellers and bibliophiles in the media age with e-readers, online buying, and lack of support for book retail in general. These discussions are things book lovers have passionate opinions about. A.J.’s life explores some of the day to day experiences of a bookseller meeting with sales reps, reading galleys, planning events, hosting book clubs. For A.J. committing to these things changes his life and the lives of others in so many ways.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was a quick and easy read. While it was enjoyable, and used an interesting structure, I felt like the characters lacked enough development to make them compelling and the story felt gimmicky.