Friday, October 31, 2014
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin
I almost never read contemporary fiction, except for mysteries, but occasionally I do. Another blogger posted favorably about this book about a bookstore owner and it's only a bit over 250 pages, so I thought I'd give it a try. I'm glad I did.
A. J. Fikry and his wife Nicole open a bookstore on a fictional island called Alice, off the coast of Massachusetts. (If you've been reading me for any length of time, you'll recall that I lived most of my life in Massachusetts and know and miss the area. Every Memorial Day for many years, I was on Nantucket for the Figawi sailboat race that Jack was sailing in.) But, back to the book.
A. J.'s wife has died in a car crash and he's drinking himself into an early grave. He's never really connected with anyone but her. He's surly with everyone, including customers at Island Books. Besides all that, his almost priceless copy of Poe's Tamerlane, bought in a box of books for $5.00 at an estate sale, has been stolen.
What is there to live for? Certainly not the baby that someone leaves in his bookstore. He doesn't want a baby, knows nothing about them. There's a note saying that the little girl's name is Maya, she's 25 months old, the mother can't take care of her, and she wants her to grow up to be a reader. The body of a young woman washes up on the shore a few days later.
A. J. takes the baby to the police station but then decides to take care of her himself until Child Services can pick her up. Over the weekend, the little girl endears herself to him. The mother wanted Maya to grow up with A. J., so he adopts her. He resorts to Google and his sister-in-law to find out what to feed her, how to change her, how to give her a bath without seeming to be a pervert, and all those little things that a parent must know.
Each chapter starts with A. J.'s pick of a short story, a very short synopsis of the story, and his reasons for choosing it for Maya. In clumsier hands, this might seem gimmicky, but I think it works here. It's not clear why he's doing this until near the end.
Maya loves books and she grows up reading her way from board books to young adult books to literature. A. J. falls in love with goofy Amelia (Amy) Loman, the sales rep for a publishing company he is rude to when she replaces the previous sales rep who has died. A. J. is feeling that too many people in his life have died and he's not happy about that. Lambiase, the local police chief, becomes a reader after he starts hanging around the bookstore to make sure A. J. and Maya are doing okay. He even starts a book club for fellow officers and other safety personnel.
I was reading along happily until I ran into a looming tragedy. It was of the sort that almost made me stop reading, but I read on. I'm glad I did. Like the chapter beginnings with short story recommendations, the tragedy was handled well. It came but was not belabored, it was over, and the book went on to end satisfactorily.
There are some side stories, with characters who changed and grew but who remained very human. I smiled while reading. A. J. is a grumpy but ultimately likable guy. Maya changes him and he, of course, gives Maya exactly what her mother had hoped he would.