Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

My first experience with Gabrielle Zevin's books was as a school librarian when her book Elsewhere hit our library shelves. It was an immediate hit and created a group of Zevin fans. When I discovered that she had written an adult book, I was anxious to read it. I was not disappointed. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is charming, enticing, suspenseful, and a delightful read. Our Gables Book Club always tries to read a shorter book for the December meeting. This was our selection.

Set on fictional Alice Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, the novel opens as the reader meets the protagonist who is a curmudgeonly book store owner.  His demeanor as he meets an new publisher's rep. Amelia Loman,  is dreadful; but then we learn the back story of his young wife being killed and the resulting loneliness and reliance on the bottle to get through most days. Adding to this malaise are the pesky seizures that he has during which he can black out for seconds or hours. He has a prized possession in an very valuable edition of Tamerlane by Edgar Allen Poe that he reads to soothe his sorrow. To his horror, the book is stolen from under his eyes and his life changes. He has lost his source of retirement income, but larger than that his family circumstances change. Mysteriously, a baby is left inside the bookstore. He is taken with Maya and she transforms his life, giving it purpose once again. 

As two mysteries unfold, the whereabouts of the lost Tamerlane, and who is the child, the readers meets others on the island. Officer Lambiase conducts the investigation and eventually forms his own book club that centers on police and detective books. Ismay is A.J.'s sister and is married to Daniel Parish, a bit of a rogue and philanderer. And then there is Marian Wallace, whom we eventually learn is Maya's mother. She walked into the ocean and drowned, an apparent suicide. 

The book is a tribute to reading, bookstores, and the human soul that both touch. Each chapter begins with an excerpt  of a short story or novel that is annotated with Fikry's thoughts. As Maya grows up from the precocious toddler in the beginning to her teenage years, so does A.J. grow to love and accept the changes that he feels in his life toward people and his beloved books. The book begs to be read by those of us who so love to be surrounded by writing and our books. Borrowing a quote from C.S. Lewis and expanding on it on page 249, A.J. comments: "We read to know we're not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone."  That pretty well sums it up. A wonderful book to contemplate and enjoy.

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