The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I understand why a lot of people liked this book. Its main character is a cranky, grieving mess at the beginning, one who I suppose is hitting bottom, but he’s smart and acerbic and pretentious in an amusing and sometimes insightful way.
I didn’t like him, though, and didn’t think that Gabrielle Zevin tried in any substantial way to entice me into liking him. AJ is not unpleasant in an Olive Kitteridge kind of way—he’s more withdrawn and private, which is not only a tough act for a bookseller but also makes you less reactive as a reader.
He wants to drink himself to death? No one’s going to stop him, and for a chunk of the book, most readers aren’t going to care.
Then a couple of big things happen and AJ turns it around, not in an earth-shattering way, but in a genuine way that’s consistent with the kind of guy we know he is. At forks in the road he makes a few turns toward caring when before he would have passed and that’s pretty much how you have a meaningful life.
There’s a gentle humor and understanding to the book that validates how hard it is for people living in dark places to change, and how simple. I like its sensibility, kind without ever being the least bit schmaltzy. For those who need an edge to their stories, this one should fit.
But for me, not really liking AJ is a problem that kept me from engaging fully with the story. I read along, not skimming but not caring overly much, and when bad things started to happen toward the end was shocked to find myself tearing up.
That’s a mark of Zevin being a good writer. I ended up caring despite myself. But I didn’t enjoy the book. There were no highs to offset the lows. It was like a beautiful winter day. You can admire the snowy landscape, be deeply affected by the cold, but what you crave is a roaring fire, a blanket, a cup of coffee and gingersnaps, and someone to kiss. Deep stories cover both terrains.
To balance AJ's humane and elegant crispness I wanted some messy, babbling warmth and to me it just wasn’t there until the one falling-apart scene when (view spoiler)[Amelia reaches between AJ's legs under a sheet (hide spoiler)] and I thought "Hey, where has this been the whole story? This is what's missing. Enough with the dispassionate stuff, give me a little crazy love."
But by then it's too late in every way.
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