Wednesday, May 21, 2014

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

Happy, but not (too) sappy. Gabrielle Zevin achieves that tricky balance with her heartwarming novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

A grumpy widower's life changes for the better when a toddler is left in his bookstore.

"He picks up the baby. Her diaper is soiled. A.J. has never changed a diaper in his life, though he is a modestly skilled gift wrapper."

The bookstore is located on Alice Island in northeastern U.S.A. The small town gathers around in support when A.J. takes on responsibility for Maya. Books and reading foster the child's growth as well as community involvement. The greatest change happens within A.J.

"A.J. watches Maya in her pink party dress, and he feels a vaguely familiar, slightly intolerable bubbling inside of him. He wants to laugh out loud or punch a wall. He feels drunk or at least carbonated. Insane. At first, he thinks this is happiness, but then he determines it's love."

People who love to read will see their passion celebrated in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. Lots of different books and authors are mentioned throughout. Each chapter is preceded by A.J.'s comments about a particular short story that he admires, by Roald Dahl, Mark Twain, Flannery O'Connor and others.

"Maya, novels certainly have their charms, but the most elegant creation in the prose universe is a short story. Master the short story and you'll have mastered the world."

How nice to encounter an advocate for short stories!

As a book blogger, I can relate strongly to one of things A.J. writes in regards to Raymond Carver's 'What We Talk about When We Talk about Love:'

"A question I've thought about a great deal is why it is so much easier to write about the things we dislike/hate/acknowledge to be flawed than the things we love. This is my favourite short story, Maya, and yet I cannot begin to tell you why."

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is sweet, but not cloying. Pick it up when you are in the mood to be charmed.

Readalikes: Rooftoppers (Katherine Rundell); Unexpected Lessons in Love (Bernadine Bishop); The Emperor of Paris (C.S. Richardson); Minding Frankie (Maeve Binchy).

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