"A.J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen."
That description, along with the cover art and title, are enough to attract any book lover to the story. As if that's not enough, the concluding sentences on the jacket description read as follows:
"And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, though large in weight - an unexpected arrival that gives A.J. the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything more."
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry showed up under the Christmas tree this year (as I had put it on my wish list) and I eagerly dove into it the day after. I wasn't in more than three chapters when I knew I wanted to finish the book up quickly so that I could tuck it behind me in my "read in 2015" pile instead of carrying it with me, unread, into the new year. This is to say that I hated the book, but also found it compelling enough a storyline to read until the bitter end.
A.J. Fikry is a dismal character. Some would say he's a very realistic one and easy to identify with. His life has proved to have its fair share of difficulties. He is a widower who owns a fledgling bookshop and drinks himself unconscious far too often. Hope is non-existent in his world which makes his tale more depressing to me than anything else. His bleak looking future improves a bit once a small child is found abandoned in his bookshop. There is a note attached to the child indicating that the mother wishes her daughter raised in the care of A.J. Fikry. He ends up adopting her and their story continues together. I don't want to spoil everything about the book so I'll leave it at that. I think the back of the book gives that much away, but not much else.
Now, my husband and I have adopted children and so you might be asking yourself why it is that I'm not much a fan of this particular adoption story. Well, for one, it's not very realistic. At all. It's a magical matching which is very outside the norm, so my breathe isn't likely to be taken away just because there is an adoption theme to this book. If anything, I found it slightly eye-rolling.
Chiefly though, I did not enjoy this story because I didn't like any of the characters. They are rather a hard and crusty bunch who all have mouths like sailors. If you are at all prone to be bothered by foul language in books, you will not want to step anywhere near this book by Gabrielle Zevin. You'd need multiple bars of soap to clean out these potty mouths. I'm of the mindset that you don't need foul language to tell a good story. Not seeing the reason to include it, I would steer clear of avoiding this story for this reason alone.
Why did I read this book to the end? That's a very good question. I read it for two reasons:
1. Zevin is a good story teller. The way she weaves the different character's back stories together is appealing. Also, her writing style is unique. I've never come across a book written in this style and I found it to be curious.
2. I knew Zevin was writing without care for a reader's wishes. I did not know where her story was headed but I knew she was in command of it. I could tell that Zevin wrote for pleasure, from imagination, and with a plan in mind. When someone writes or speaks with this degree of confidence, I'm forced to take notice. I can't look away because they want me to understand something and/or accept something. She asked me to listen and I consented whether I agreed with her ideas or not.
As it is, I didn't like her characters or how the story ended up. I wouldn't seek out another Zevin title mostly for the language issue. My only goal, as I said above, was to leave the read behind me in 2015. Mission accomplished.
This book took me outside of my comfort zone and made me curious in a way that most modern authors fail to do. Some will say that I shouldn't have read it and others will say that its great that I did. For my own part I'll say that I read it, but I wouldn't recommend it. That's the best summary I can give.