Day 511: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

Cover for The Storied Life of A. J. FikryI dislike publicity that compares books by new authors to established, popular books, because the comparison is so often misleading. I’ve seen The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry compared to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. The similarities are a certain lightness of tone, the presence of book clubs, and the setting on an island. Otherwise, there is no comparison between the novels. I should add that I didn’t have much of an opinion of “Guernsey.” I like this novel much better, but the comparison almost made me decide not to try it.

A. J. Fikry is a recently widowed bookstore owner when the novel begins. He is normally somewhat of a curmudgeon, but he is also having difficulty coping with his wife Nic’s death. The book actually begins with Amelia Loman, the new account manager for Knightley Press, who has made the trip from the mainland to meet with him. He has forgotten their appointment and refuses to discuss any of the books on the winter list.

Aside from his wife’s death, things are not going well for A. J. He is drinking too much. Without Nic around he’s doing a poor job of managing the store. Then one night when he forgets to lock up his only rare book because he’s been drinking, it is stolen. He had planned to use the book as his nest egg after he drove the book store out of business, but the police can find no trace of it.

After A. J.’s book is stolen, he decides there is no point in locking up the store. When he comes back from a run, he finds a toddler in his store with a note from the child’s mother saying she wants Maya to be raised around books. It is the beginning of the weekend, so A. J. agrees to take care of Maya until social services can come out to the island on Monday. You may guess that by the end of the weekend, he does not want to give the little girl up and his life is changed.

Zevin writes in a breezy third person. Partly because of the style, this novel seems to be the type that will be full of quirky characters, but it isn’t really, just nice ones who seem realistic.

Each chapter begins with a commentary on a short story, which A. J. has written for Maya. Zevin also inserts the occasional literary allusion or joke. One playful element is the reuse of names from works of literature. In a more extended joke, Amelia disappears from the book for quite awhile after the first chapter, so that when A. J. says this

You know the kind of book I’m talking about, right? The kind of hotshot literary fiction that, like, follows some unimportant supporting character for a bit so it looks all Faulkneresque and expansive.

we think the book is being self-referential. But Amelia returns and becomes an important character.

http://www.netgalley.comI liked this novel. It deals playfully with literature if that appeals to you, but I just plain liked the characters. The novel is occasionally amusing and ultimately touching. It is both intelligently written and light in touch.

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13 thoughts on “Day 511: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

  1. Ngan R. April 29, 2014 / 1:13 pm

    I appreciate your review! This is on my shelf now and I can’t wait to read it soon. I like books that are playful and breezy in tone but don’t sacrifice intelligence.

    • whatmeread April 29, 2014 / 1:13 pm

      You’ll probably like this one, then. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Naomi April 29, 2014 / 3:53 pm

    I liked this book too, and I agree that, even without all the bookishness, I think I would still like it because of the characters. They were realistic, and the book wasn’t as predictable and rosy as you might think.

  3. Alina (literaryvittles) April 29, 2014 / 4:50 pm

    I agree, I hate it when publicity blurbs compare newly-released titles to mega-sellers. It’s really just laziness, I think, and usually not very accurate. Have you ever watched “Un Cuento Chino”? It’s an Argentine film with a plot kinda-sorta similar to the one in this book. I think you would like the movie (as long as subtitles don’t annoy you). It’s really sweet.

    • whatmeread April 30, 2014 / 7:34 am

      No, I don’t mind subtitles at all. I’ll check it out. Thanks!

  4. Cedar Station April 29, 2014 / 5:13 pm

    Thanks for the review! Heard lots of things about this one.

  5. Ariel Price April 29, 2014 / 11:31 pm

    Gasp! I had no idea this was being compared to Guernsey, and I’m glad I didn’t. It is NOTHING like Guernsey, and I wouldn’t have read it if I’d thought it did. Guernsey was meh. I much preferred this book as well.

    Also – good point about the “Faulkneresque” quote – I hadn’t caught that!

    • whatmeread April 30, 2014 / 7:35 am

      I know. Isn’t it a horrible comparison? On the literary allusions, I liked that the book saleslady, Amelia, had the last name of Loman. Also, that she worked for Knightley Press!

  6. Cecilia May 2, 2014 / 10:23 am

    Oh yes, I also hate those comparisons! In fact, I have turned away from books that come described that way. I probably shouldn’t be doing that as it isn’t the author’s fault but it just rubs me the wrong way….

    I got a copy of this through NetGalley too but ended up requesting it from the library (am 8th in line! It will be the end of the summer before I can get my hands on it ;-)). It doesn’t download to the Kindle, right? I didn’t want to read it on my computer. Anyway, glad you enjoyed it! There’s been a lot of good publicity on this book so I’m looking forward to it.

    • whatmeread May 2, 2014 / 10:31 am

      I think the Netgalley copy downloads to a Kindle, but I’m not sure. I use an iPad to view, and the app they use on the iPad is not my Kindle app.

      Yes, the comparison can work against the book in two ways. If the reader didn’t like the popular book, as I felt about Guernsey, they might not get it because of the comparison. If they liked the book, but the new book isn’t enough like it (which is almost always true), then they’ll be disappointed. As Ariel said, it’s lazy, but I think they take a fairly big risk by doing it, too. It always bothers me.

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