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Book Review: ‘The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry’ a satisfying read

By Tom Mayer (

Article Published: May. 29 | Modified: May. 29
Book Review: ‘The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry’ a satisfying read

For every reader who fantasizes about owning, stocking, managing and, perhaps, living above his own bookstore, “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” is Gabrielle Zevin’s gift to you.

An accidental entrepreneur, Fikry is an embittered, frustrated and faithless drunk following the loss of his wife in an accident. He is brash with customers, dislikes most authors and dislikes more most mainstream literature.

His list of what he will not stock — “postmodernism, post-apocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, magic realism, clever formal devices, multiple fonts and literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy” — makes Island Books a challenge for the most dedicated publishing rep, but especially so for Amelia Loman, a rep who has inherited Fikry’s account and whose talents, as it turns out suitably, include “multitasking, selecting the right wine at dinner, houseplants, strays and other lost causes.”

Fikry is a lost cause among an island full of lost causes, but the key to “The Storied Life” is self-awareness and what you do with the realization. Reinvention is possible, perhaps even desirable, but not attainable in isolation. Or as Ernest Hemingway famously wrote, “One man alone ain’t got — no chance.”

Enter Maya, a baby abandoned in Fikry’s bookstore, whose tale will weave throughout an island populated with masterfully drawn characters. She is Fikry’s gift, an unexpected exchange for a stolen treasure and the glue that will bind the pages of those who live on Alice Island. If there is one fault with “The Storied Life,” it is that we are given too little exposure to this orphan — a character who breathes life into Zevin’s story with a wit and heart that transcend her formative years. That the author shows a deft hand in drawing Maya is little surprise — Zevin is a noted author of books for young adults — but that more of that drawing is not seen is a disappointment.

Still, “The Storied Life” is satisfying on so many levels — catching the literary references will appeal to your inner book nerd, and Zevin’s veiled critiques of contemporary literary trends are spot-on — that it is no surprise the novel was plucked as a “No. 1 Pick” of Independent Booksellers.”

By the end, the story neatly rebounds on itself, and the ends are tied — as is Fikry to a new life. “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” is published by Chapel Hill’s Algonquin Books.

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