The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is about a bookstore owner who struggles to come to terms with the death of his wife. His deteriorating life-style takes an unexpected turn with the arrival of a package mysteriously abandoned in his bookstore. The package prompts his transformation from a curmudgeonly, unsociable book lover to a loving father and husband who gradually learns to connect with his community and become a socially active and contributing member.
Fikry is a book lover who harbors strong opinions about books. But don’t we all? Zevin peppers the narrative with references to various books and Fikry’s unapologetic assessment of the work, as well as his pronouncements on what constitutes a good story and why. He is the focal point in a social circle of people who share his love for books—from Chief Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer; Amelia, the book sales representative; and Maya, his adopted daughter.
Fikry is lovable enough, but his portrayal is somewhat stereotypical—a socially inept, frosty book lover who is more comfortable between the pages of a book than among real people. The portrayal of his daughter Maya is the most problematic. She speaks with the voice of an adult while a toddler and maintains the same voice even as she ages. At times it is difficult to pinpoint whether she is still a child or a young adult.
The plot was predictable, especially the burgeoning romance between Fikry and Amelia. And the rose-colored lens with which the tragedies are viewed and summarily dismissed is unrealistic and superficial. The tone of Maya’s short story in which she imagines what led to her mother’s suicide is callous and flippant—as if to suggest that every tragedy in life can be dealt with if one turns it into fodder for creative writing.
In spite of these shortcomings, there is much to recommend this book. It is a quick, easy, and enjoyable read. The narrative is brisk and the discussions of the merits and demerits of various books are sure to thrill most readers. The setting is delightful as it is the only bookstore in an off-the-beaten path village. And the lovable Fikry with his precocious child and quirky wife make an amiable team.
Recommended for readers who love reading books about people who love reading books.