Monday, April 14, 2014

A Weekend with A. J. Fikry

Whenever you see that Algonquin Books, out of Chapel Hill, is publishing a new novel, you can be sure that it's going to be a little gem. That is their much deserved reputation. Such is the case with "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry," which I read over the weekend. Garth Stein, "The Art of Racing in the Rain," provides the cover blurb. That should tell you all you need to know.

This novel is a bibliophile's delight, set as it is in a quirky bookstore on a Nantucket-like island off the coast of Massachusetts. The sign over the store,

"No Man is an Island; Every Book is a World,"

 doesn't seem to reflect the sensibility of the curmudgeonly owner, A. J. Fikry, who hides in his office, bellowing orders to the sullen part-timer at the register.  Advanced readers copies of publishers' hot list titles pile up and overflow in every corner of the cramped store. Most evenings, Fikry heads to the apartment upstairs where he drinks himself into a stupor. You see, his wife Nic, dead two years now from an auto accident, was the life of the store. Without her, A.J. feels that its soul is missing.

A. J. reads deeply and has strong, some might say outdated, opinions of just what makes great literature. He argues passionately with Amelia, the fresh, young sales rep from the Knightley Press, against anything new. Closet book snobs will laugh out loud at some of his prejudices, which include anything involving vampires, magical realism, maudlin memoirs, Holocaust fiction, celebrity bios, and god forbid, children's books.

Yes, Amelia has her work cut out for her, but somehow we understand early on that she's up to the task. And when Fikry, while closing shop one evening, discovers a strange package left behind near the Maurice Sendak section, (the only children's author he'll tolerate), an entire small town full of wonderful characters step in to help him decide what to do. I especially loved the not-so-macho, Jeffery Deaver-reading policeman, Chief Lambiase, who forms the Chief's Choice book club for law enforcement officers. 

So, who is Garbrielle Zevin? I'll never be able to keep up with all the talent out there. It seems that she's been around for quite a while, having written seven novels, including an American Library Association Notable award winner for children. You can hear an NPR interview with her at her website:

This is a very special novel, one I did not want to put down. Zevin has managed to create a mash up of mystery, love story, tragedy, and redemptive fiction all in one 260 page bundle. "The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry" is full of heart, not to mention an eclectic reading list. If fiction has ever saved your life as it did mine, this book is for you.


Lesa said...

I'm so glad you loved it as much as I did! I bought my own copy. Just had to own it.

Linda said...

I doubt I would have ever discovered this one, and it sounds delightful. Thanks for the recommendation.

Sallyb said...

Thanks for the comments ladies. What a great gift for book lovers too.