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Find a moving read in The Storied Life of AJ Fikry: A Book Review

What immediately attracted me to this unusual novel was author Gabrielle Zevin’s technique of beginning each chapter with the title of a famous short story like Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” and introducing that segment with a one-page link. Other stories with which he leads his chapters include “Lambs to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl, “What we talk about when we talk about love” (Raymond Carver) and “A good man is hard to find” by Flannery O’Connor.

Getting to AJ Fikry’s Island Bookstore is a formidable task culminating in a ferry trip, but for the publisher’s new rep, Amelia Loman, it’s her job. His destination is a quaint little business called Island Books in which an eccentric owner, AJ Fikry, invests very limited tastes when it comes to selecting the types of books he can tolerate. He has a special taste for collections of stories. Additionally, Mr. Fikry expresses rude behavior towards the stunned Loman, who recently replaced another (deceased) representative with whom he had become comfortable. Fikry’s first meeting with Loman is a disaster, but she is determined to earn it.

Fikry and his late wife had invested in the bookstore (She loved it more than he did). He only has one employee and threatens to fire her one day. She seems nonchalant and he doesn’t like her carefree attitude.

As the novella progresses, a rare Poe book is stolen; a baby is abandoned on the premises; and a local cop who is primarily engaged in reading massive fictional copies of Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme novels, becomes a godfather and promoter of better reading among his fellow officers. Romance blooms, mysteries are solved, and tragedy occurs.

Zevin’s dialogue rings true; their descriptions are peppered with vivid images; and he walks his novel so that the interest of the reader does not wane. Here is an excerpt:

“Amelia introduces herself (to the single employee, the grumpy teen) as the Knightley Press sales rep, and the teen, without looking up from the page, vaguely points to the back. ‘AJ is in his office.’ Precarious ARC and galleys line the hall, and Amelia feels the usual flash of despair. The tote bag she’s stamping on her shoulder has several editions for A. J’s stacks and a catalog full of other books for her to toss. … door to AJ Fikry’s office is closed. Amelia is halfway there when the sleeve of her sweater snags on one of the stacks, and a hundred books, maybe more, crash to the ground with mortifying thunder The door opens and AJ Fikry looks from the rubble to the dirty blonde giantess, who is frantically trying to recast the books. ‘Who the hell are you?’ Amelia Loman. She stacks ten more volumes and half of them fall out. ‘Drop it,’ AJ orders. ‘There’s an order to these things. You’re not helping. Please go away.’

Another excerpt illustrates his mastery of the description (Fikry has been disturbed by his rude treatment with the representative and runs out of the store to customers who do not buy and who search): “Finally he goes up to the attic where he lives. He opens a box of carton of frozen vndaloo (an Indian curry) in the microwave. Nine minutes, according to the instructions on the box. While you’re there, think about the Knightley girl. She looked like a time traveler from the Seattle of the nineties with her anchor-patterned galoshes and her grandmother’s dress and fuzzy beige sweater and her shoulder-length hair that looked like her boyfriend had cut it in the kitchen. Girlfriend? Boyfriend, he decides … (While her vindaloo is cooking, amusing himself with the collapsing cartons of books) By the time he gets back upstairs, the vindaloo is cold again. If he reheats it in that plastic plate, he’ll probably end up with cancer. Bring the plastic tray to the table. first bite I know what ema. The second bite is frozen daddy Vindaloo from Bear and vindaloo from Baby Bear. He throws the tray against the wall … “

If you like novels about remote places, baby adoption, bookstores, allusions to famous stories and whimsical characters, The Storied Life of AJ Fikry is for you.

The novel is alternately sad, ironic, romantic, and tragic. It is about a radical change in life, selflessness, bonding, acceptance and friendship.

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