Monday, April 7, 2014

THE STORIED LIFE OF A. J. FIKRY by Gabrielle Zevin

Gabrielle Zevin has expressed in her story a respect and love for books that I feel but cannot put into words.  She does it with warmth, wit and tenderness as she relates the life of a rather curmudgeonly book dealer on Alice Island, A. J. Fikry.  One of A. J.’s more endearing qualities is to describe moments or situations through an author’s work, such as (heaven forbid) a Danielle Steele moment or a Raymond Carver situation.  His world is books, totally books, since his beloved wife died.

A.J. is still shy of 40 but drinks too much as his bookstore, Island Books, teeters toward bankruptcy.  Then, quite suddenly his life changes.  His prize possession, a copy of Poe’s Tamerlane (valued at $400,000) is stolen, and a girl, a very small girl, Maya, who is 25 months old “very smart and verbal for her age” is left in his bookstore.  Maya develops a great affection for him, and once he learns her mother has drowned herself he doesn’t have the heart to abandon the child to foster care.  He adopts her - an unlikely pairing if there ever was one.

Many changes will occur as the islanders visit Island Books to make sure A.J. is taking proper care of Maya.  And, there is the arrival of Amelia Loman, a publisher’s representative who paints her nails yellow on the ferry from Hyannis to Alice Island, adores Humbert Humbert “while accepting the fact that she wouldn’t really want him for a life partner, a boyfriend or even a casual acquaintance.”  Among the books she is pushing for Knightley Press is her favorite, The Late Bloomer.  To say that A.J. greets Amelia and her books with indifference is putting it politely.

But then, things may change.   After all, they both love books and a shared sensibility is important.  As the plot carries us along we meet a local police chief who befriends A.J. and in turn expands his own small world.

Each one of Zevin’s characters is unique and empathetic.  Her writing is zingy, insightful, alive and thoroughly satisfying.  Have I mentioned that The Storied Life Of A. J. Fikry is quite simply a marvelous book?  It is.

- Gail Cooke

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