The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Algonquin Books, December 2014
A.J. Fikry owns a bookstore on an island off the Massachusetts coast, which hasn’t been doing too well lately. Neither is Fikry, whose wife died a couple of years ago and whose prized possession, a rare Poe volume, has been stolen. When a toddler is abandoned in his store, changes take hold of his life. Funny, moving, a delightful surprise for readers who enjoy books like Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson and Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project.
Fikry asks the social worker who comes to collect the child if he can be little Maya’s foster father, although he has no experience with small children. “How hard can changing a diaper be?” he muses,” I know how to gift wrap a package.” But a toddler had round and wiggly contours that a stack of books lacks. He googles what to feed her, and ends up calling his sister-in-law, who brings over tofu lasagna. Fikry complains to the police chief that Maya has terrible taste in books. All she wants to read is The Monster at the End of this Book over and over.
When he enrolls her in dance school, his bookstore sponsors the recital. The local mothers offer him advice, and he begins to stock books on parenting and adds a growing selection of children’s books. The police chief, who discovers Maya’s mother was a young woman who drowned herself in the ocean nearby, stops by to check on the girl and to discuss books with Fikry. The question of why Maya was left at the bookstore is answered at the very end of the book, when the reader has totally forgotten how she came to stay.
Little by little the stand-offish and somewhat curt Fikry is drawn into town life. The transformative power of love works on Fikry’s relationships with his neighbor, his sister-in-law, and with a publisher’s representative with a soft spot for lost causes.
Each chapter of the book starts with the title of a short story and Fikry’s thoughts about it, and why it is important to know. Dahl’s “Lamb to the Slaughter” and Fitzgerald’s “Diamond as Big as the Ritz” are two of the stories that Fikry has on his “must read” list. This is a literate and witty book with a heart, and one of my favorites of this year. The author has written eight adult and young adult novels.
Reviewed by Susan Belsky, September 2015.