Wednesday, September 16, 2015
The Storied Life of A.J. Fiery
Info: copyright 2014, Algonquin Books, 272 pages
On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.
A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.
And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming.
This is a book for book lovers. It also, kind of, shames book lovers to be honest. A. J. Fikry isn't really a nice guy. He's judgmental, abrupt, and lacks a sense of humor. He's a "literary fiction" kind of guy, looking down on those who read just to enjoy. The lovers of fluff. A. J. Fikry is a book snob. But his world changes because of a book and a town found comfort, love, and friendship in his small island bookstore.
This was one of the many audiobooks I've been devouring over the last couple of months. It was the perfect car book...short...and for my quick commute each morning, I got through it before it was due (which hardly ever happens). I almost didn't finish it though. The reader was all snark, and for awhile, it really put me off Fikry. He had a tone to his voice that was super annoying and really rubbed off on the character development. Was what I was feeling toward the character intended by the author? Or was it the reader's inflection that was forming the character in my head? That can often make or break an audiobook.
But I stuck with it, and I'm glad I did. I couldn't help feeling like I was supposed to get something out of this. I suppose a lot of times I expect there to be a big message, an underlying theme, a lesson to be imparted, a deep, insightful epiphany. But there wasn't. This was a story about a man. It was also a story about pain and loss, new beginnings, and love. And maybe that's all the story was supposed to be about.
A decent read. Not my favorite Gabrielle Zevin selection, but worth the listen nonetheless.