By Gabrielle Zevin
Algonquin Books. 260 pp. $24.95
I have been waiting a long time for this book to be released. Not only has it had lots of advance praise (some have compared to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry), but it has the added attraction of being set in a small independent bookstore on an island off the New England coast. What could be better?
I enjoyed reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, but I have to say the bookstore is mostly a fantasy. Here’s a typical day: “A.J. reads galleys, returns e-mails, answers the phone, and even writes a shelf talker or two.”
Sigh. What a life. He’s never seen opening cartons, stocking shelves, packing up returns, or tracking down lost orders.
How do those books get on his shelves, anyway? When does he pay the bills? Who vacuums?
Aside from that minor and personal objection, it’s a pretty good book, full of references to titles from past to present in a wide range of genres. I especially enjoyed Mr. Fikry’s tirade about his literary tastes:
“‘Like,’ he repeats with distaste. ‘How about I tell you what I don’t like? I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism. ..I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and—I imagine this goes without saying—vampires.’ ”
It’s clear from the outset that A.J. Fikry is a curmudgeon. But he’s too young to be a bona fide one; he’s only in his late thirties when the novel opens. He has reason to be ill-tempered, however. His wife died a year ago, the bookstore’s sales are down, and now he has been robbed of a rare edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry.
Then—and I don’t think this happens in most bookstores either—someone abandons a baby in his shop. He promptly adopts her, and, as you can imagine, life begins anew—but not without enough dark plot twists and serious moments to ensure that this is more than a sweet family love story in a quaint setting.