While out walking with the Mighty Belle recently, we passed by not one, not two, but three little free libraries. I always check them out, but rarely partake from them; I have so many books waiting to be read that I feel like potentially taking a free book from someone else is a bit caddish. But this time, I saw a book that I dearly love, but do not own: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. I had no qualms about snapping it up to add to my cherished collection.
A.J. Fikry is a recent widower who owns a struggling bookstore on tiny Alice Island, Massachusetts. He’s only in his mid-thirties, but seems older due to a somewhat cantankerous manner and a fair bit of literary snobbery. Although intelligent and witty, he’s not very social, even more so after the death of his beloved wife. Now he embraces the way his life folds in on itself, growing smaller and more isolated even as his wine consumption increases. It doesn’t help that his bookstore is coming off its least profitable year ever and to top it off, the one thing of real value that he owns – a rare edition of Edgar Allen Poe’s Tamerlane – was recently stolen, which he takes as permission to become even more apathetic towards life.
Then one day a toddler is left at the bookstore; two-year old Maya, complete with diaper bag and note (“I love her very much but I can no longer take care of her.”). At first A.J. balks at the idea of being responsible for a child – something he knows nothing about – but as he waits for a case worker from the Department of Children and Families to arrive, he and the precocious girl begin to bond, and he ends up keeping her.
What could otherwise be a trite and predictable story about an unattached man whose life is redeemed by the sudden addition of an innocent child is given fresh treatment by author Gabrielle Zevin. Her characters, the depiction of life in an isolated town, the background workings of a bookstore and publishing representatives, ring so genuine that it almost seems as if she is observing reality rather than creating a narrative. Her female characters are not beautiful or stylish, but ordinary, and even more remarkable for being so. Neither are her men typical literary fare; their strengths and flaws are ones that we recognize in ourselves, in our spouses, in our friends and families.
Just as wondrously, for a book about opening up your heart, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is refreshingly sparse in sentimentality and schmaltz. This story could easily get mired in melodrama, but there is no need for tissues in the reading of this book – and it is all the much better for that.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a quick, easy read – not because it is simple; it deals with a lot of complex, difficult issues – but because it unfolds simply, with humor and candor, with surprises that come from the vagaries of life rather the from convoluted plots and manipulated dramas. And along the way, there are lots of lovely moments – just like life. Yours and mine.
Oh, yes, this book was a wonderful find. Why not discover it for yourself?