Each chapter of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry begins with a literary review by A.J., a bookstore owner on tiny little Alice Island in New England.
A.J. is a crotchety fellow, but we soon learn why as aspects of his tragic past become revealed in the first few chapters. Early in the book he experiences the loss of a literary collector’s dream, and it seems as though this loss shakes him out of a fog in which he has been living. This setback is only a prelude to the new positive things that show up in A.J.’s life, things like love and friendship.
Throughout A Storied Life, we see A.J. transformed, both in the narrative and also in his literary reviews at the beginning of each chapter.
A.J. slowly begins to allow new people into his sacred spaces. This permission seems to enhance his love of books and accentuate it, creating a bittersweet tale of life, love, and literature.
The first page of this book threw me a little bit. I wasn’t quite sure what we were doing, but I caught on by the 3rd chapter and by the end of the book, those literary reviews at the beginning of each chapter told as much of the story as the actual chapter itself.
A.J.’s relationships with each of the characters is unique, and all of them have quirks that are both endearing and entertaining. The dialogue is one of the very best parts of this book, relatable especially to book lovers, but also to those whose eccentricities are the hallmarks of their close relationships. Inside jokes, sarcasm, yet fierce love – these appear to be the mortar that holds A.J.’s relationships together. Along with the books. Always the books.
I would give this book 4 stars out of 5. It’s an easy read, not a long book at all, and while there are some heavy elements, it never felt like a heavy read. When I’m rating a book, I do so not just based on whether I like it, but on whether or not the author succeeded in what I believe they intended to articulate and I think Zevin did a good job of that. The ending, though somewhat sad, I don’t believe was tragic. I love a book that allows me to continue the story in my own head and imagine the characters’ progression after the book itself is over. In that way, the reader is sort of allowed to write his or her own ending. Some people don’t like that, preferring to have everything wrapped up in a tidy little ending. I find that, in most of my favorite books, the larger elements of the story are resolved, but the characters continue in my mind and never feel “complete”. In that way, books imitate life. People are a work in progress, though our individual circumstances may ebb and flow.
I highly recommend A Storied Life, especially for a good vacation book or weekend read. I read it over 3 days, but could have finished it in a whole sitting if I’d had the time.
As I review our book club selections, I will leave you with a quote that stood out to me from the narrative. In A Storied Life, I highlighted many, but this was actually the first one that gave me pause:
“He had spent hours with the man over the last half dozen years. They had only ever discussed books but what, in this life, is more personal than books?”