The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Format: Kindle (Kindle Unlimited, thankfully FREE)
*Mild spoilers, possibly*
I have been hearing rave reviews about this book since it came out. The booktubers I watch regularly LOVED IT, raved on and on about it, couldn’t talk about it enough. So when I saw it available on Kindle Unlimited, I checked it out.
First of all, it took me a day to read, on the way back to Atlanta from Alabama (reading on my phone, which is actually one of my favorite ways to read even though the tiny screen is mildly annoying.) And I really, really wanted to love it.
I liked it. I didn’t love it, but it was a solid 3 stars for me. (Not a bad thing! Unlike my horrible former boss, who gave me 3 stars as an act of total douchery, I’m giving 3 stars on the Goodreads scale. As in, ‘I liked it’ but it wasn’t tear-my-heart-out amazing.)
I loved A.J. Fikry, the bookstore-owning, grouchy but lovable main character. Amelia, his bookseller love interest, I liked… ok. Her #quirkiness, what with the weird fashion sense and the doll-like hair, and the galoshes, reminded me a little too much of the main girl from The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl (Eleanor?). She was just a little too ‘well golly gosh, ain’t I adorable and adorably flawed but mostly adorable’ for me. I liked their romance, mostly because it was from A.J.’s perspective, and his cynical-but-soft personality made me feel like I was getting to read a kindred spirit.
I also love Maya, and I hope my future child is exactly like her, what with her book-loving, bossy, Hermione-Granger-Would-Be-Proud attitude. Sigh. Smart children are so adorable. You know, when they’re not right in front of you.
My problem with the book, at least, my main problem: the author tries way too hard for subtlety. Now, ok, I usually like subtlety. I don’t want things spelled out for me. I want there to be a little mystery, even if it’s not a mystery. I want to have to think a little to stay engaged. And I also usually like when stories reflect real life in the way that sometimes, even when you’re anticipating something SO MUCH that it’s eating you alive inside, the resolution of it just fizzles, anticlimax-style, lost in the flurry of everything else in your life going on around it. That’s fine with me.
But not every. damn. thing. is. like. that. It was almost like Zevin was afraid to write a climax. I’m not talking a big flash-bang, someone pull a gun fiasco, either. Any sort of situation, big as a proposal or small as almost-but-not-quite winning a school writing competition, was built up and built up painstakingly, and then just *whoosh* glossed over. On to the next thing, before the reader has time to reflect. Either that, or the resolution to this big build-up is mentioned offhandedly later on, after the emotions of the moment have passed.
Again, I’m alright with this every now and then. But for it to be effective it has to be shuffled in with some moments that have an dead-stop moment of climax and clarity. Something has to happen in the moment, I guess is what I’m trying to say. And that didn’t happen enough to make me feel present for the story. I kept thinking I was getting to the climax, waiting for the big thing to happen, only to see I was only 30% of the way into the book, not even close, then later 85% of the way through, after it probably already passed. It just didn’t make an impression worth remembering on me. I do remember being really moved by the Tamerlane’s reappearance and the circumstances surrounding it, but it wasn’t enough to really make me LOVE it. And by the end, with the cancer introduced, I was just kind of over it, ready to move on.
I will say that it’s also a little unfair, I guess, that I read Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore earlier this year and LOVED IT. Because I couldn’t help but draw similarities, not just between the settings (bookstores, obviously), but also between the old crotchety main character, the just-quirky-enough side characters, the relaxing but building plot.
But the difference is I adored Mr. Penumbra’s, and this one was just… Nice. That’s the word. It’s a pretty relaxing read, it has great book and short story recommendations sprinkled throughout, and it has a heavy-handed but genuine sentiment backing it all up, and it’s… Nice.
3 Stars = Nice. Nice = I won’t recommend it, but I won’t turn anyone away from it. Like eggshell paint, or those magazine holders made out of cereal boxes. Just Nice.