book review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The backstory: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is one of my book club's November picks. The other is We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, which I LOVED. (My book club meets every other month and reads two books.)

The basics: A.J. Fikry is a widowed book store owner on Alice Island, a fictional Martha's Vineyard-like place. His prized possession is a valuable and rare copy of very early Poe poems has been stolen, and he is rather miserable all around.

My thoughts: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a story for book lovers. It's filled with recommendations and inside jokes:
"He wants Maya to read literary picture books if such a thing exists. And preferably modern ones. And preferably, preferably feminist ones. Nothing with princesses. It turns out that these works most definitely do exist. He is particularly fond of Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Emily Jenkins, Peter Sis, and Lane Smith." 
At times the novel gets somewhat meta, and I found these moments interesting but ultimately not as successful: "You're a good reader, and you'll probably see it coming. (Is a twist less satisfying if you know it's coming? Is a twist that you can't predict symptomatic of bad construction? These are things to consider when writing.)" There are twists in this novel, and some I saw coming. Some were satisfying, and those were often the ones I didn't see coming.

As I read, I was fascinated by this novel, but not always in a good way. I didn't get carried away by the characters. Instead, I was carried away by trying to think like Zevin: what was she trying to accomplish with this novel. There are clues, including this passage about listing an average novel among one's favorites:
"How to account for its presence when I know it is only average? The answer is this: Your dad relates to the characters. It has meaning to me. And the longer I do this (bookselling, yes, of course, but also living if that isn't too awfully sentimental), the more I believe that this is what the point of all is. To connect, my dear little nerd. Only connect."
And therein lies the problem I had when I finished this novel. I didn't connect. I enjoyed it as I read. I was curious what would happen, as well as how and when the twists I guessed were coming would come. I can't say what made me not connect, but I think that's the key difference in my lukewarm thoughts on this entertaining novel that so many have utterly adored.

Favorite passage: "The thing I find most promising about your short story is that it shows empathy. Why do people do what they do? This is the hallmark of great writing."

The verdict: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a fun, entertaining read. It's clearly an ode to the love of books, which I quite enjoyed while I read, but ultimately the story lacked depth and emotional resonance. The characters felt like characters in a story rather than real, multi-dimensional characters.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 273 pages
Publication date: April 1, 2014 
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Gabrielle Zevin's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter

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  1. I think this is the first review of this book that I've read that didn't gush over how amazing it was. I haven't read this book, so I can't weigh in, but it's nice to read a different opinion!


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