I don't fancy myself a book reviewer. I am not skilled at it, nor do I enjoy it. But every now and then I read a book that I feel compelled to talk about. One such book is The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.
This book was written for people like me--people who love bookstores and their owners. But Fikry is not what one would at first consider a lovable owner. He is cranky and antisocial. He stocks only books that he likes, and his likes are quite limited. No young adult fiction, no postapocalyptic fiction, no novelty items, and definitely no vampires. In short, no fun, by today's standards at least. It's not surprising, then, that his store, Island Books, has few customers, and Fikry has few friends. He drinks and keeps to himself, enjoying only the company of his prized possession, a rare and valuable first edition of Edgar Allan Poe's Tamerlane.
Not a very attractive character, you may be thinking, and you would be right. But Fikry holds special appeal for me because, you see, the book finely parallels my favorite classic novel, Silas Marner by George Eliot. Like Marner, Fikry has become withdrawn because of a lost love, in Fikry's case, a wife who has died. Like Marner's treasured gold, Fikry's prized copy of Tamerlane is stolen, turning his world upside down. And as with Silas Marner, a life-altering event happens that brings Fikry back to life and gives him purpose. Both characters are saved from their lonely, surly lives by an unexpected and unlikely gift given to them in the form of a child.
If you have read and enjoyed Silas Marner as I have, you will love A. J. Fikry. If you have wanted to read Silas Marner, but felt daunted by the book's archaic language, take heart. You can get the full literary effect of the classic tale in this modern retelling, beautifully crafted and touching without being melodramatic. Librarians, teachers, writers, readers, and book lovers of all sorts will enjoy the appreciation for reading, bookstores and books displayed in this novel. As Fikry comes back to life, so does his bookstore. My only regret is that it is impossible for me to ever visit Island Books, where "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." What a remarkable world exists in The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry.