‘The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry’ by Gabrielle Zevin
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry has been sitting on my shelf for almost three years. It was given to me when I lived on Nantucket largely, I believe, because it’s about a bookshop on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts. In addition, Fikry is billed as a book for book-lovers, an ode to the delights of a good independent bookstore.
This all sounded very much up my alley and so an astute coworker got it for me for my birthday years ago.
And indeed, the fictional bookshop of Fikry, called Island Books, will seem very familiar to anyone who has ever shopped at Mitchell’s Book Corner in Nantucket. With its small children’s section, the smaller upstairs area, and apartment above, Island Books must have been inspired in part by a visit to Nantucket.
And indeed, the book does dwell on the kind of curmugeonly book-love that borders on snobbery with which many bibliophiles will be intimately familiar. Our hero, A.J. Fikry, owner of Island Books, disdains anything with vampires, young adult books as a rule, and sappy novels about widowers.
Fikry also dutifully resurrects the old e-book vs. physical book debate that used to feel like such a civil war in the reading community. (A.J. is, unsurprisingly, one of those “I’ll be damned if I use one of those contraptions!” / “E-books are killing bookstores!” people.) I like to think we’ve moved beyond this sort of reductiveness; one can like multiple formats and each has its own benefits.
But, for all that Fikry is about an island bookstore and however much the characters love books, I was stunned and disappointed to discover that it is, at its mushy heart, actually that which A.J. himself disdains: a sappy novel about a widower.
And, ho boy, do I mean sappy. There’s the aforementioned widower plus an abandoned orphan, cancer, a mid-30s professional woman looking for love, a failing small business that must be saved by plucky locals, a gruff policeman with a heart of gold, a lost masterpiece by Edgar Allen Poe, and so on. It’s like every Hallmark movie stereotype rolled into one story with bookish pretensions added to lure in unsuspecting bibliophiles.
I finally read and finished Fikry, but felt pretty misled and irritated at the end. If you like quick, mushy reads about the redemptive power of love, then this might be a good read for you. Otherwise, don’t be lured in by its promises of bookishness or by your love of island bookshops. It’s a trap!