The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin


It was my enjoyment of Zevin’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow that took me to this 2014 book of hers which has been made into a movie. It’s a little tough to imagine that a cranky literary snob who owns a failing bookstore could be made a sympathetic character. Throw in the tragic death of his wife, the theft of a rare book, and an abandoned baby on his doorstep, and things can change.

When we meet A.J., his beautiful vivacious wife has been gone for two years, so he is barely running the bookstore on Alice Island off the coast of Massachusetts. A new publisher’s rep comes calling and he reveals the depth of his disdain for books and reels off the long list of categories of books he won’t stock, including children’s books, young adult books, books over 400 or under 150 pages, books that have vampires, and the list goes on. Amelia, the rep, does continue to do business with A.J. over the coming years, despite his bile.

After A.J.’s rare book is stolen, we get to know the police chief, Lambiase, who describes himself as “not much of a reader.” A.J. connects with the chief again when a two-year-old is left on his doorstep, along with a note from the mother saying she will commit suicide and wants her daughter to be raised in a bookstore. The two agree that the child should stay with A.J. over the weekend until social services can arrive by the ferry, and well, the social worker readily agrees that despite the complicated paperwork, A.J. should adopt her.

And caring for Maya is good for A.J., the bookstore, and the community in general. I enjoyed the crime fiction book group imposed on his police force by Chief Lambiase, and one can easily imagine what police might have to say about crime fiction. A.J.’s redemption goes so far as to have him admit his interest in Amelia. Maya herself thrives in the bookstore and does indeed have an interest in writing.

The number of literary references in this book tipped over into the uncomfortable range for me. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow had it just right for me. And the plot was better by far.

Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014, 260 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available in the public library.

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