The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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April 24, 2014

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry


...'I saw this resting on the door,' Lambiase says when he comes inside. He hands a padded manila envelope with A.J.'s name on it to his friend.
      'Probably another galley,' A.J. says
      'Don't say that,' Lambiase jokes. 'Could be the next big thing in there.'
      'Yeah, I'm sure. It's probably the Great American Novel. I'll add it to my stack. Things to Read Before My Brain Stops Working.'
      A.J. sets the package on the countertop, and Lambiase watches it. 'You never know,' Lambiase says.
      'I'm like a girl who has been on the dating scene too long. I've had too many disappointments, too many promises of 'the one,' and they never are. As a cop. don't you get that way?'
      'What way?'
      'Cynical, I guess,' A.J. says. Don't you ever get to the point where you expect the worse from people all the time?'
       Lambiase shakes his head. 'No. I see good people just as much as I see bad ones.'
      'Yeah, name me some.'
      'People like you, my friend.' Lambiase clears his throat, and A.J. can think of no reply. 'What's good in crime that I haven't read?  I need some new picks for Chief's Choice.'
      A.J. walks over to the crime section. He looks across the spines, which are, for the most part, black and red with all capitalized fonts in silvers and whites. An occasional burst of fluorescence breaks up the monotony. A.J. thinks how similar everything in the crime genre looks. Why is any one book different from any other book? They are different, A.J. decides, because they are. We have to look inside many. We have to believe. We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and again.
       He selects one and holds it out to his friend. 'Maybe this?"

Around here, odds are that a book about books, and a bookstore, and a curmudgeonly bookseller, is going to be looked inside, and believed in, at least for a while. :)  This one wasn't exhilarating, but it wasn't disappointing, either. Just the kind of book that I liked, but wanted to love.

A.J. Fikry, the bookseller, is in his forties, widowed, still grieving, blunt, severely opinionated about what makes a book good and which books he is willing to sell in Island Books.  The bookstore is on Nantucket-esque Alice Island, quiet in the winter and streaming with tourists in the summer. A.J. is Indian, 'a little foreign'; it was his wife who grew up in the island and who people really liked.  After she is killed when her car goes into the water when she is driving an author to the ferry, A.J. lives alone in the flat above the bookstore, watched over by his sister-in-law Ismay, and befriended, at least, by her good-looking, philandering, novelist husband Daniel and Nicholas Lambiase, Alice Island's chief of police. He's dismayed to learn that his rep from Knightley Press dies, because the man understood him, and he's not impressed with Amelia, the pretty young replacement.

A.J. goes for long runs at night, after the bookstore closes, and because there's never a good way to carry your keys, he leaves the door unlocked. Because of that, two dramatic things happen:  his rare and valuable copy of Poe's Tamerlane is stolen, and when he hears a strange cry from the children's section, he finds that a sweet, pretty two-year-old named Maya has been left in his care, because her mother wants her to be raised by someone who will teach her to love books.

What happens next is sweet but improbable (that's OK, because this is a novel), but eventually the book races along for sixteen years and too many twists and turns {it is a 'storied life,' after all}. And when the premise of the book, and the characters that the author creates, have this much promise, it's hard when they seem to fall just a little flat.  But this book was funny and charming, I definitely enjoyed it, and I loved its bookish humor (the chief of police requires his officers to join his book club, Chief's Choice, where they read crime novels and service weapons are banned after two deputies get into a heated argument over a particular passage). 



JoAnn said...

I'm at the top of the list for a digital download from the library now and it's probably a good thing I read your review. My expectations were getting a little too high and now they have been reigned in to a more realistic level... thank you!

Barbara C. said...

I thought the book lacked enough information about the various characters-Ismay, Daniel, even the police chief. I wanted to know them better and many of the Alice folk just sort of passed as shadows in the night.
But it was somewhat entertaining to me. My expectations were very high as their was a sticker on my library loan saying something like "read fast and return because this book is so popular!"

JaneGS said...

I'm hoping to read this book this summer--I'm hoping to love it because as you point out, it has all the elements a book lover should love! It's definitely getting a lot of hype.

Thanks for a good, honest review--a pleasure to read.

JoAnn said...

Just checking back in to let you know that I finished the book today and pretty much agree with your assessment. I LOVED the beginning but somewhere past the midpoint, it started to go downhill. Very disappointed by the end. I ended up giving it three starts.....but they were all earned in the first third :(

Thank you for visiting!

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