‘The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry’ by Gabrielle Zevin – Book Review

We read for many different reasons. Some read to learn, others read to escape, and still others read simply for the love of a good book. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by author Gabrielle Zevin is a novel aimed directly at this third group. A lovely story in and of itself, this work makes constant references to others that only lovers of literature will recognize, from the classics of Flannery O’Connor to modern treasures such as Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. Short and simple, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a quick yet highly rewarding read that may inspire one to return to a forgotten favourite or even to try something entirely new.

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryLike many books about books, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry exists within a highly appropriate setting: a small, independent bookstore located on little Alice Island. In the wake of the death of his beloved wife, the store’s owner A.J. Fikry finds himself living the type of purposeless life that he did not expect to be his. After the theft of his most valuable short story collection, Fikry is presented with an even greater surprise: a young child abandoned in his bookstore. Slowly but surely, this new arrival begins to change Fikry, his outlook, and his approach. The possibility of new romance even arrives as Fikry begins to fall for a kind and eccentric sales representative with whom he shares an all-important and uniting love of books.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a simple story that uses clean, everyday prose to great effect. It may not present a challenge, but that is clearly not the aim here. Each chapter opens with Fikry’s musings on a short story that has had a particular influence on his life, and far from being gimmicky, this technique adds to the depth of the work. The tale is sweet but stays light enough to avoid sappiness, while using its many literary references to add an overall sense of importance. This delicate balance is one that author Gabrielle Zevin has mastered and demonstrates in her young adult work as well; novels such as Elsewhere come to mind as examples of weighty works that avoid melodrama and pathos. There is also a soft humour present that is more likely to prompt a smile than a laugh, but charms nonetheless.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is not the kind of novel one comes across every day. The work is not particularly grand or ambitious, as it appears content to pay homage to the great works that it references without reaching too high itself. There is an old-fashioned sensibility to this novel that is sure to move one to smiles, and, inevitably, to tears. Upon its completion, one cannot help but recognize the quiet power of such a book. Here is a celebration of the works the intended audience will undoubtedly already know and love, as well as of the book industry itself. Of course, there is also mention of the healing power of love, for what great novel would be complete without it? Check out The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry for a moving reflection on a beloved topic.