Monday, July 07, 2014

Charming Book About Books Makes Me Gush—With Reservations

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In the nearly two years since his pregnant wife died in a car crash, grief has dragged 39-year-old A.J. Fikry down into a black pit of despair.  He has little hope of escaping it and no real reason to try.  A.J.'s business—a small bookstore—slides closer to bankruptcy every day; he has few close friends; and even the great literature that used to keep him company seems to be losing its appeal.  The curmudgeonly bookstore owner feels lost in a world that used to make sense.

As if A.J.'s life is not miserable enough, his most prized possession, a valuable antique book, disappears from its climate-controlled display case.  In its place, he receives a delivery.  And not of the bookish variety.  The two events, especially the latter, shake his world to its very core.  As he learns to cope with these unexpected changes in his life, A.J. feels—for the first time since his wife's death—not just a purpose in living, but an enthusiasm for it.  As he re-learns to embrace the world beyond the covers of his books, A.J. discovers the surprising joy of community, caring, and sharing his passion for great literature with other people (even if their definition of "great" differs quite a bit from his).  

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, a charming adult novel by Gabrielle Zevin, is a difficult tale to describe.  Plotwise, it's not much to sneeze at—it's the narration that makes this story such a delight.  Fikry has a way of seeing things that is at once unique and familiar, especially to book lovers.  I couldn't help but snicker at passages like these:
A.J. has never changed a diaper in his life, though he is a modestly skilled gift wrapper ... he figures diaper changing and gift-wrapping must be related proficiencies ... The whole thing takes about twenty minutes.  Babies move more than books and aren't as conveniently shaped (50).  
If Jenny were a book, she would be a paperback just out of the box—no dog ears, no waterlogging, no creases in her spine.  A.J. would prefer a social worker with some obvious wear.  He imagines the synopsis on the back of the Jenny story:  when plucky Jenny from Fairfield, Connecticut, took a job as a social worker in the big city, she had no idea what she was getting into (64-65).
How can you not love a voice as rich and droll as this one?  It captivated me.  Fikry's story, though not all that original, is also compelling.  As are those of the other characters.  In fact, the only thing that kept me from not outright adoring The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was its R-rated elements (F-bombs, sexual content, etc.), which seemed out of place in a tale that otherwise brims with an old-fashioned, classic type of charm.  If it weren't for these "aberrations," I would be gushing about this book right and left, pushing it on every bibliophile I know.  As is, I can only recommend it with reservations.  The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry has such appeal, I just wish Zevin had stripped out all the "mature" elements and kept it clean enough for book lovers of all ages to enjoy this homage to reading—and to life.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


 If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, sexual content, and references to illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  

2 comments:

  1. This is the second time I've heard this one talked about! I'll have to check it out!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Now that you mention it, the language does seem really out of place for a book like this. I adored the book and didn't mind the language but it absolutely wasn't necessary to the story and didn't do anything to advance Fikry's characterization. Glad you enjoyed it otherwise!

    ReplyDelete

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