I just finished reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin and I’m gobsmacked by a sense of unfairness. How could they up and leave me, these characters I followed for so many years? (It’s a sign of a good book when I put it down feeling heartbroken.)
A.J. Fikry is a widower, a snob, and a curmudgeon. But, most of all, he’s a bookseller and a reader. After his wife’s untimely death, he mans the bookstore he and his spouse opened on Alice Island, a (fictional) small town off the coast of Boston, alone. With a knack for recommending books and drinking himself to sleep, he’s the sort of protag you’d want at your local purveyor of literature but, perhaps, not the sort to whom you’d want to try selling a YA novel or befriend. When Fikry finds two-year-old Maya abandoned in his store with only a note from her mother and a knapsack, everything changes. This is where the story truly began for me. We follow his life and those of his intimate circle as he picks up the pieces. There’s intrigue surrounding Maya’s parentage, a love that takes years to arrive, a rare book robbery, and so so much more. This is a story for book lovers–I take unchecked pleasure in finding book mentions in fiction narratives and this one has it in spades.
I’ve found myself reading more diversely and am learning that I enjoy whimsical, heartfelt slice of life fiction more than I thought I would. I usually go in for the epic and fantastic, but intimate, insular tales of lives lived contemporaneously are giving me the feels lately. In the words of a favorite songstress, “them heavy people hit me in a soft spot.” Not to be misleading–this book has heart-wrenching moments dealing with fatherhood, loss, and relationships, but wry humor softens the blows and the sorrows are as sweet as they can be bitter.
I decided to read this book because it was in my Audible recommendations and the summary alluded to a bookish story, but otherwise I didn’t know what I was getting into. I’d just come off reading Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff and while this book shares genre similarities, Fikry proved a good balance to Groff’s more drastic and painful tale of life and love.
In my movie version of Zevin’s novel, I cast Ben Kingsley as Fikry, Amandla Stenberg as Maya, and Charlize Theron as Amelia.