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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry By Gabrielle Zevin (April 1, 2014, Algonquin Books)




From the Book Shelf May 1, 2014
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

05/01/14
By Meghan Siegler msiegler@hippopress.com



The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

By Gabrielle Zevin (April 1, 2014, Algonquin Books)
I liked this book, but, weeks after finishing it, I’m still trying to figure out why.
When I put the book down, I didn’t have any strong urges to pick it up again — but when I did, I didn’t want to stop reading. Puzzling, right?
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is riddled with literary references — fitting, since A.J. Fikry is an independent-bookstore owner who, despite being a bitter, curmudgeonly man, is clearly in the right business, at least in terms of knowing his product. Knowing how to deal with people — customers, women, the toddler whose mother leaves her in A.J.’s empty store before she goes for a swim, never to return — is not so much in his wheelhouse. 
A.J. is a widower, so that buys him a little more empathy than he might have otherwise for being exceedingly eccentric and rude and probably an alcoholic. And then he meets Amelia, a publishing company rep who comes to his store on tiny Alice Island to sell him inventory. He’s no nicer to her than to anyone else, and yet they both leave their first meeting with an odd feeling (love, it turns out). It takes years of Amelia’s quarterly visits to the island for them to figure that out, as well as A.J.’s adoption of Maya, the little girl who was left in his shop whom he instantly feels responsible for and begrudgingly becomes fond of. She softens him, of course, which presumably makes him better boyfriend (and eventually husband) material for Amelia.
I wanted to know more about the characters than I ever did, and I kept reading because I was hoping for more. 
The weird time lapses didn’t help; within a chapter, sometimes an hour would go by, but more often days or even years, which made it hard to fully relate to any of the big players, or their relationships with each other. Maya grows up so quickly (she’s out of college by the time the book ends), and she always feels like more of “the thing that makes A.J. love again” than an actual child; their bond never feels quite real. Amelia and A.J. have so little to do with each other for so many years that, although they predictably end up together, it’s that predictability that makes the marriage seem right as opposed to any physical or emotional chemistry. 
But Zevin’s writing is engaging, intriguing and fresh. The “supporting cast” is strong and entertaining, including the cop who befriends A.J. and starts a police department book club, and his dead wife’s sister, who has a badly-behaving husband whom she finally, inevitably kicks to the curb. The literary references are fantastic and I’m sure more plentiful than I realized — I was delighted by one in particular:
“Your first literary crush is a big deal,” Amelia says. “Mine was John Irving.”
“You lie,” A.J. says. “It was Ann M. Martin.”
Having grown up devouring every book in The Babysitter’s Club series, I know Martin as the author, and the relatively obscure reference made me inexplicably happy. Perhaps it’s those little treasures, along with the exquisite writing, that left me with a fondness for this book, despite my longing to get to know and love its characters a little bit more. — Meghan Siegler 





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