A New York Times Bestseller, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was one of the most popular books in 2014, easily becoming a GoodReads Choice Award Nominee for Best Fiction in 2014. Based on the life of a small town bookstore owner, it’s commonly lauded as the perfect fit for bibliophiles and book clubs. Algonquin Books | 2014 | Paperback | 288pp
The story open with A.J. Fikry in a bad state. He’s a new widow and the bookstore he had opened with his late wife is floundering. He’s out of shape, depressed, and prone to wine blackouts. His prized possession, an original Tamerlane by E.A. Poe, has been stolen. He doesn’t have many friends, and on the small island-town of Alice, he’s never really integrated into the community – not with the early death of his wife (a local) who had brought him there.
A few weeks after the theft, something strange happened. Something he never expected. Something that changes his life. A mysterious gift is left for him at the bookstore. This extraordinary gift is a mystery in itself, and it is something that slowly brings A.J. Fikry back to life. Once again, A.J. begins to find joy in books, people, and life in general. This gift saves A.J. Fikry’s life.
I didn’t know much about this book going in. I knew that the bookstore owner receives a mysterious package, but that was about it. So I’m not going to ruin it for anyone else because it really was unexpected for me – the gift he received. Without knowing, it made the story much sweeter.
It’s as if A.J. is born again and as he ages on this idyllic New England island, he does so through books. Call it gimmicky, call it snobby, call it hokey if you will. All of the book references and amusing conversations around books and well-known characters – they work.
A.J. often identifies people and situations in literary terms which I found endearing and amusing. This is one of his early character attributes that becomes less pronounced as he comes out of his shell and widens his social circle.
“The social worker’s name is Jenny. A.J. cannot recall ever having met an adult woman named Jenny. 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.”
Naturally, most of his conversations steer toward books. Any reader, seasoned or not, is bound to find connections with the author’s multitude of literary references. A.J.’s remarks on the White Witch’s temptation, for example, gave me pause. I remember dreaming as a child about how good that sweet treat must have been.
“This wouldn’t be a restaurant per se, but I always wanted to try the Turkish Delight in Narnia. When I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a boy, I used to think that Turkish Delight must have been incredibly delicious if it made Edmund betray his family,” A.J. says. “I guess I must have told my wife this, because one year Nic gets a box for me for the holidays. And it turned out to be this powdery, gummy candy. I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed in my entire life.”
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a warm and tender read, perfect for holiday reading time and for the long, cold months. It’ll melt you from the inside out. Sorry to be cliché, but my mood matches the book – this one is easy to enjoy.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin