Books and a Babe: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (review)

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

What’s better than a book recommendation from a book-lovin’ friend? Nothing. So as soon as a friend wrote on my Facebook wall that The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was fast and fun and right up my alley, I was on it. Plus I’m a sucker for any book set in a bookstore.

Storied Life of A.J. FikryA.J. Fikry is rudderless. Wife Nic has just died in an auto accident, his bookstore Island Books is barely keeping its nose above water. Life is pretty grim when in walks his new Knightly Publishing rep Amelia Loman with the list of winter books. He’s not welcoming, to put it mildly (grief and social niceties are usually at odds); rebuffed, Amelia leaves assuming she won’t be calling on Island Books again any time soon.

But before things get better, they get worse when A.J.’s prized possession, a first edition of Poe’s Tamerlane, is stolen. Then—a toddler is left on his doorstep with a note from her mother: “I want Maya to grow up to be a reader … I love her very much but I can no longer take care of her … I am desperate …” and quick as you can say “Silas Marner” A.J. is a dad. A bumbling, curmudgeonly, single dad who despises Elmo and has never changed a diaper.

And, yes, readers all—The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a modern day Silas Marner. The references come fast and furious. Maya enters through an unlocked door. Both Marner and A.J. suffer from some sort of seizure disorder that leaves them, well, blank, for a few moments. Maya opens A.J. to the warm embrace of the Alice Island community and the love of a woman. While he lost his earthly treasure, he gained a more precious gift. Any more parallels and I’d need to insert [spoiler alert]—but then if you know Silas Marner, you know how the plot unfolds in A.J. Fikry.

Gabrielle Zevin’s novel is fast and fun and scattered with did-you-catch-‘em literary references. (A.J. goes on a date to a restaurant named Queequeg, for instance) Each chapter begins with a short book review written by the store owner. The trials and tribulations of life in an independent bookstore were spot on from what I remember about my own book selling days. And, yes, friend, it was right up my alley.

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